Theological Imaginings: Out of Wonder
Nellie McLaughlin rsm (The Congregation)
From the 'Out of Wonder' series
Used as cover image of the book from which this text is taken.
Memories echo the enduring moments of life. I remember the first time I prepared onions for Irish stew. It was my first year in secondary school and we were learning to cook, by the book, as it were. That attempt ended in tears, as has every single one since then. Onions are bulbous root vegetables with many protective layers. Peeling one's way to the silky white core is a tearful process. However, the memory of tears soon evaporates in the aroma and flavour of the resultant meal. I like to think of an onion as an image of the universe. The awesome story of the universe has its roots in the flaring forth moment of the original fireball over thirteen billion years ago. Stars, rocks, water, plants, insects, birds, animals and humans sing the memory of the great cosmos simply by being as they are. My ancestral memory courses through my veins, crystallises my bones and broadens my smile while guiding my every movement. We have so many layers to unravel in order to get in touch with our deepest roots, not merely millions of years but billions!
Like the onion, our story is multi-layered, a series of intertwining stories creating our cosmic identity. The story of stars and galaxies, the story of Earth in all its life forms and the human story are one. This is the magnificent outpouring of divine creativity embracing the radical unity of all life. All species are different but not separate in the wonder of creation. Getting in touch with this oneness can be painful as we try to prise fixed mind-sets. It hurts to expand our story to include all of life, non-human as well as human, and it certainly pains us to acknowledge that we are not alone as the epitome of God's creative genius. We feel the muscle stretch in loosening the memories of almost fourteen billion years. What a painful but invigorating jolt from the restricting confines of so-called recorded history. The thirteen billion year story is recorded in the rocks, the stars, in the soil, in water and in the fibre of every being.
Images from the 'Out of Wonder' series.
As Nellie composed the chapters of her book, she shared these with Oonagh who painted these images for incorporation into the book. The publishers chose to not include any of the images apart from the one (above) used for the cover.
Oonagh experiences art-making as a process in which tiny glimpses of the ancient and ever-present creative energy of the universe can be gleaned.
Like the onion shedding its tightly fitting layers, we too are challenged to be more open to the gradual unfolding of the story of life within the great cosmic weaving. The unique flavour of the onion is not lost in the mix; rather it contributes its own particular flavour to the whole and enhances it. As we expand our identity as humans to embrace every other life form, each a unique manifestation of divine art, what will emerge? An overwhelming sense of the oneness of all life will transform us. Our uniqueness and the uniqueness of every being will merge, opening us to the wonder of life and who we are as species among species in the community we call the universe.
The story of the universe is our origin story as it is presently unfolding through the combined wisdom of generations in the community of life and with ever more powerful telescopes and microscopes. Today with our advancing technologies, we are no less astonished as we realise that the more we know the more there is to know. May we never cease to live out of wonder into delight...
Extract from the Introduction to ‘Out of Wonder: The Evolving Story of the Universe’ (2016)
Spanish translation using DeepL Translator. Traducción al español con DeepL Translator
‘Nellie McLaughlin rsm (The Congregation) is a founding member of The Green Land Sod Trust and is particularly interested in the areas of cosmology, ecology and creation. This text is taken from the Foreword to her book ‘Out of Wonder: The Evolving Story of the Universe’ (2004, 2016).
Sr Nellie's most recent publication is ‘Life’s Delicate Balance: Our Common Home and Laudato Si’ (2016). She was interviewed for the MIRP VOICES series in 2016. You can watch her interview here.