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Documentary film, retreat in Langley encourages new view of universe

September 28, 2011

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By Patricia Duff
South Whidbey Record Arts & Entertainment, Island Life
September 28, 2011

Ancient matters of the universe matter even more today.

Although the universe is almost 14 billion years old, a forward-thinking evolutionary philosopher and a historian are telling a new story of its mysteries.

The documentary film, “Journey of the Universe, An Epic Story of Cosmic, Earth and Human Transformation,” will be shown at the Clyde Theatre in Langley at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 1. A workshop with the film’s creators, Dr. Brian Swimme and his collaborator, Yale University historian of religion Mary Evelyn Tucker, will follow from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Whidbey Institute in Clinton. An additional weekend retreat is the following weekend in Freeland.

The “Journey of the Universe” film, book and 20-part educational series weaves a tapestry that draws together scientific discoveries in astronomy, geology, biology, ecology and biodiversity with humanistic insights concerning the nature of the universe.

Filmed in high definition, the story begins on the historically rich Greek island of Samos, birthplace of mathematician Pythagoras, who lived around 500 BC. At the top of Pythagoras’ list of truths that he lived by were that reality, at its deepest level, is mathematical in nature and that philosophy can be used for spiritual purification. He was ahead of his time, and Swimme respects him for it, as he does the countless thinkers that followed.

In the film, Swimme disembarks on the island at dawn and guides viewers on a trek through time and space, sharing a view of cosmic evolution as a process based on immense creativity, connection and interdependence. At midnight, he sets sail into the star-lit waters of the Aegean Sea, leaving the viewer with a sense of wonder at the mystery, complexity and connectivity that permeates the Earth and universe from the beginning of time.

Swimme said it is all of science on which he draws to tell this story that comes out of the work of the millions of scientists all over the planet who, over the past few centuries, have carried out the necessary research.

“I think one of the accomplishments of the film is that it draws together the very best scientific discoveries and presents them in a form that a curious 12-year-old can understand,” Swimme said.

Swimme’s intention is to shift the paradigm of people’s perspective on the universe and to offer a new sense of the astounding nature of existence.

“Some of these discoveries will be known by some people, but almost no one will already know all of these discoveries,” Swimme said.

“Even professional scientists who viewed the film have told us they very much appreciated learning what their colleagues in other fields have come up with. In addition, there’s something very satisfying about taking in all this knowledge via a story,” he added.

Using his skills as a master storyteller, Swimme connects such big-picture issues as the birth of the cosmos 14 billion years ago, to the invisible frontiers of the human genome, as well as to the human impact on Earth’s evolutionary dynamics. From the Big Bang to the massive effect humans have on the planet today, the film is designed to inspire a new and closer relationship with Earth in a period of growing environmental and social crisis.

Swimme hopes the movie will give viewers a new understanding of the relevance these discoveries have to their own lives.

“It’s not a bunch of abstract science that is delivered in a lecture hall. Because we filmed on an island, it’s easy for the viewer to relate the scientific discoveries to daily life. That was our intention from the start. To show its relevance to daily life,” he said.

Langley resident Ann Amberg is already busy relating Swimme’s ideas to one’s daily life in a series of online classes she teaches.

Amberg, who holds a master’s in contemporary spirituality through the Lorian Association, instructs professional development courses for K-12 educators in partnership with Seattle’s Antioch University and The Heritage Institute, and sees “Journey of the Universe” as a breakthrough film.

In honor of Swimme and Tucker’s visit to the island, Amberg will hold a science, spirit and wholeness residential retreat from Friday, Oct. 7 through Sunday, Oct. 9 at the Asherah Farm & Retreat House in Freeland. The retreat is titled “Entering the Shared Dream, Working Wholeheartedly with the Powers of the Universe.”

Amberg said Swimme, like the great theologist Thomas Berry with whom Swimme previously authored “The Universe Story,” asks “Would the universe work for 15 billion years to create consumers? Is that really what it’s about?”

Amberg, too, has questions of her own such as, “What is the Earth asking of us? Is it possible to partner intentionally with the elegant creativity of Earth and the cosmos?”

The retreat that she has created with Gayle Podrabsky helps people to reconnect with their sacred nature, grounding one’s capacity for self-creation and attentive work in the world in the context of the journey of the universe.

Amberg uses the teachings of Swimme, Tucker and Berry to help people understand their relevance in everyday life; their place in the grand scheme of the universe.

“These scientists look at the universe as animate; alive with matter and mystery, rather than filled with what has been called ‘dead matter,’” she said.

In an interview with Swimme, Berry once said: “Most amazing is this realization that everything that exists in the universe came from a common origin. The material of your body and the material of my body are intrinsically related because they emerged from and are caught up in a single energetic event. Our ancestry stretches back through the life forms and into the stars, back to the beginnings of the primeval fireball. This universe is a single multiform energetic unfolding of matter, mind, intelligence and life.

“And all of this is new. None of the great figures of human history were aware of this. Not Plato, or Aristotle, or the Hebrew Prophets, or Confucius, or Thomas Aquinas, or Leibniz, or Newton, or any other world-maker. We are the first generation to live with an empirical view of the origin of the universe. We are the first humans to look into the night sky and see the birth of stars, the birth of galaxies, the birth of the cosmos as a whole. Our future as a species will be forged within this new story of the world.”

“This is true, holistic science,” Amberg said.

“Seeing that the planetary systems, the whole universe, comes together through allurement, which is just another way of saying gravity,” she added, explaining the idea that things in the universe come together through attraction and that the basic dynamism of the universe is the attraction each galaxy has for every other galaxy.

In other words, we’re all connected, she said.

Amberg said that these discoveries are new in our time and that Swimme has touched only the tip of the iceberg.

“The human race is a geologic force, like the Ice Age was. We are responsible for the earth. The game is different now,” she said.

She said it is part of her mission to help people understand that what is needed is a wholly integrated earth-community.

“This is our new cosmology, our new story. It’s a story with 7 billion people on the earth. Integration is the new story,” she said.

For more information and to register for “Entering the Shared Dream, Working Wholeheartedly with the Powers of the Universe,” contact Amberg at or 360-632-3793, or Gayle Podrabsky at

Cost of the retreat is $250, which includes accommodations and meals. $100 deposit is due at time of registration. Camping and non-residential pricing available.

Find out more about the film at

Note: The workshop with Swimme and Tucker at the Whidbey Institute is sold out.

The Clyde Theatre's website is

Documentary film, retreat in Langley encourages new view of universe

September 28, 2011

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