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PBS film "Journey of the Universe" has deep roots in Oakland

By Pat McHenry Sullivan
Oakland Local
June 11, 2011

“What is the creativity that brought forth a hundred billion, maybe a trillion galaxies?" asks mathematical cosmologist Brian Swimme, Ph.D. in the trailer to his stunning new film, "Journey of the Universe." Throughout the film he'll be asking, how can that creativity inspire your own creativity and engagement in an ever-changing world?

In some groups, such questions are heresy because the scientific story of the universe contradicts their religious story about who we are, where we come from and what we need to do with our time on this earth. To others the question is an invitation to see the universe itself as an ongoing repository of wisdom and revelation that's utterly practical for the challenges of everyday life on earth.

For more than three decades, Swimme has been in the forefront of this latter group, which is about to get much bigger. His film, co-authored by Yale- and Harvard-based professor of history of religions Mary Evelyn Tucker has its TV debut on the local PBS station, KQED Channel 9, at 5:30 p.m. on KQED 9 and KQED Life, TODAY, Saturday, June 11. In the fall, the film will be available for PBS stations throughout the nation.

Since 1983, Swimme has been inviting students at Oakland's Holy Names University to treat nature as one of our most sacred wisdom sources and letting it inspire us to find our place in a 14 billion-year-old, self-organizing and diverse universe. Though he moved his academic base from Holy Names to California Institute of Integral Studies in 1989, he's been part of Holy Names' Sophia Center offerings ever since, especially its summer programs.

Swimme is a passionate and infectious teacher. Out of his classes has come the inspiration for many books, much poetry and many new work or life directions. Indeed, says Sophia Center director Jim Conlon, Ph.D., Swimme's greatest gift is helping "people draw on their experience and gifts and aligning them with a passionate new vision to make the world the better."

Swimme and Tucker spent almost 30 year in close alliance with the late Thomas Berry, a theologian whose little essay in 1978, "The New Story," called for "a new orientation and direction ... motivated by his deep concern for the almost suicidal path of humans in their destruction of Earth and in their violence and indifference to one another."

Such a new orientation would lead us, says Conlon, into a new era (which Berry called the ecozoic era) in which are "humans are present to the earth in a more mutually enhancing way."

Not surprisingly, the work of Berry, Swimme and Tucker has resonated deeply with many ecologists. It's also drawn in people of all fields, all faiths (including many clergy), who see the call not just to recycle, but also to add a sacred intention to all our work and interaction with others.

Throughout Oakland and the Bay Area, enthusiastic graduates of Swimme's classes are generating numerous discussion groups in homes and nonprofit groups to coincide with the KQED show. There also are several public discussions coming up.

At 7 p.m. July 14, Swimme will speak on "Living the New Story: Cosmology for a Mutually Enhancing World" at Regents' Theater, Valley Center for the Performing Arts on the HNU campus on Mountain Boulevard.

Disclosure: My husband and I were in Brian's 1988 fall class at Holy Names, then called "Cosmos as Primary Revelation." That class was filmed and is available as "Canticle to the Cosmos," a "telling of the scientific story of the Universe with a feeling for its sacred nature." In that class, I found the beginning of my life's work.

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