David Carlson: In a constant state of becoming

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Cross at sunset

What images come to mind when you see the word “seminary?”

Do you imagine a community of people being indoctrinated, being told what to believe, being taught to be narrow minded?

I believe most who attend a seminary have the opposite experience.

Instead of narrowing the mind, seminary education promotes the opposite — open-mindedness, curiosity and wonder. Yes, there are truths to contemplate, but also an invitation to explore the diverse ways those truths can be interpreted.

For example, in my own seminary education, I read more works on evolution than I did during the college years. I still think Loren Eiseley’s “The Immense Journey” to be one of the most important books I’ve ever read, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to spend time with a non-religious scientist who shares his deep wonder — I would go as far as to say a “sacred wonder” — at the evolutionary process.

I know I had fellow classmates who thought the theory of evolution was the enemy of faith. I also remember classmates who believed it wasn’t evolution, but the notion of God that needed to be questioned. I was somewhere in the middle, wanting to bring the truths of revelation, such as Scriptures, into conversation with the truths of modern science and psychology.

I rate my three years in seminary as the best educational experience I had. I write this not only because I gained some of my closest friends during those years, but because my seminary education has never ended.

I was reminded of this recently as my wife and I watched the volcanic activity on Iceland. People are traveling to Iceland from all over the world to watch this incredible sight, but anyone with a computer can observe this amazing current event online. I highly recommend this experience.

As I watched this unfolding phenomenon, I remembered these words from my seminary days: “Creation is not over; it’s always continuing.”

Like most people raised on the Bible, I entered seminary thinking of creation as something that happened in the universe’s beginning, something long ago and long over. What I gained in seminary was the amazing and awesome concept of creation being ongoing. The Divine Being didn’t create just once. The Divine, even with human beings’ mistreatment of the earth, our home, has never stopped creating. Everything on earth is in a constant state of becoming.

Volcanologists are naturally excited with events in Iceland, seeing in these volcanoes a glimpse of how our planet was formed. But the volcanoes are not just attracting scientists. Most of the people visiting the site in person or online aren’t measuring or recording data but simply standing in silence.

Theologians respect the activity of the volcanologists, but they also understand and share the reaction of the majority of visitors who are standing in silence and awe before the volcanoes.

Words fail as we recognize we’re looking at something more profound than flowing lava. We are looking into the force of life itself, the same force that forces a weed through a crack in a sidewalk, the same force that pumps blood at this very moment from our hearts to our veins and arteries.

At first, the volcanoes on Iceland seemed something unusual and foreign to our lives. The more we look at this awesome sight, however, the more we might realize that we are seeing something true about all of life, including our own lives.

A little more than two months ago, this part of Iceland was very different than it is today. And two months ago, our own lives were different than they are today. The volcanoes in Iceland remind us that the same force is within each of us — the force of life, the force of becoming.

Throughout human history, this force has been known by a wide range of names. In the seminary I attended, we called that force “God.” Other cultures have used different names for this force. Far more important than the names we assign to this force are these moments of standing in silence and awe before it.

David Carlson of Franklin is a professor emeritus of philosophy and religion. Send comments to [email protected].