An article by Dr Megan Clay
The Cosmic Walk, situated in the West Down Campus in the University of Winchester, was the brainchild of Michael and Erna Colebrook who worked with GreenSpirit in Plymouth. The Cosmic Walk was to be based on their version of walking the sacred story and was to have been created in the grounds of the University College of St Mark and St John in Plymouth, Devon.
It moved to Winchester University when liberation and feminist theologian Lisa Isherwood became Professor there. The Cosmic Walk was created in celebration of Professor Isherwood’s inauguration into the University of Winchester in 2008 and her theological lecture was entitled ‘Wanderings in the Cosmic Garden‘. It began by asking the question, ‘why theology in the garden’?
It takes us back to the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden and reminds us that the story of the fall of man through Eve in Genesis 1 has been misinterpreted by traditional theologians throughout Christian history.
The new story that Professor Isherwood wants us to engage with theologically is a story that asks us to consider ourselves in relation to the whole cosmos. A story that is not only informed by theology but also science and the mythological stories that have been
passed down from generation to generation for thousands of years – stories that the great religions have been woven out of; stories that give humanity meaning in their lives.
I was commissioned to paint the first fifteen panels of art work that were to begin that story of consideration in the garden. This art work was informed primarily by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry’s The Universe Story: From The Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: A Celebration of the Unfolding of the Cosmos (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992), which I read and passionately absorbed. I was midway through writing my PhD at Winchester and their story fired my creative imagination and gave me another starting point for my work theologically through the science of quantum physics. This led me to read other works by social scientist Diamuid O’Murchu – Quantum Theology: Spiritual Implications of the New Physics (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2004) – and constructive theologian Professor Catherine Keller – Face of the Deep: A Theology Of Becoming (London, New York: Routledge, 2003) – which further informed my work.
The paintings for the Cosmic Walk were created in a cupboard where I carefully connected the paintings together with three pieces of string. These pieces of string were symbolic of the interconnectedness of everything throughout the cosmos from the ‘big bang’ onwards. The process of painting these panels in the cupboard involved lively conversations and the sharing of meaningful stories with many passers-by, including workers, lecturers and students. These communal contributions added to my own thoughts and feelings, as I painted my interpretation of this story, that had now become the story of ‘our’ wondrous cosmic beginnings.
My work, which had begun in feminist liberation theology and traditional theology looking at the spiritual/sexual lives of the female child within a traditional Christian framework, began to be transformed. I had now been invited to convert my work into a creative practice which would enable me to write and paint my thesis. This transformative process began to take on a new world view that gave another starting point, one that began in the cosmic vista that was beginning to unfold before me.
I had entered the world of quantum physics, notions of multiplicity, somatic psychology, biophysics and feminist philosophy which I integrated with strands of feminist liberation theology. These strands were Christology and body theology. All of these integrated ideas began to inform both my artwork and theology in a deeper, embodied way. The intention of my work was to open up another way of transferring knowledge to the child (for my work the girl child) in a creative tactile way, through image, texture, colour, form and storytelling.
The idea was to inform the child of their body selves in relationship to everything else in the cosmos. See my book Dancing in the Cosmos: Toward Liberating Theological Models for Children’s Spirituality and Sexuality (Germany: Lap Lambert Publishers, December 2013). My intention was to raise an awareness of our interconnectedness and interdependence spiritually and sensually, awakening bodies and minds together, to engage in our own transformative process.
The starting point for my work had moved outside the box of organised religion of Christianity into the wide open-ended vista of the new cosmology, thus making ‘the cosmos as our spiritual home’, as suggested by Thomas Berry. We begin with the darkness and are asked to reflect on this moment of looking out from planet earth and beyond back to the beginning of time through the dark matter and energy in relation to the void, as spoken about by Genesis 1. This, for me, was an encouraging start for the female who has throughout Christian history been viewed as embodying darkness and chaos, which has been equated with the sin of Eve, but could now be understood as the creative centre of life itself.
O’Murchu stirred my theological imagination and I reconnected with my spiritual journey as woman and the way in which the divine, dark energy and matter resonated with my own experience This appealed to me! It is for this reason that the first panel in the Cosmic Walk is painted black to symbolise the mysterious darkness of space and time and inviting the observer to acknowledge the deep yearning of the human quest whose search for deep meaning has been inexhaustible. Scientists have also been actively searching the Universe for our beginnings in deep space time since the launch of the Hubble Telescope.
Panel two symbolises the mystery of the universe’s imminent birthing forth and unfolding depth. It allows the viewer to wonder not only about our human story of beginnings but also to think about the implication of quantum theory which enables us to engage with the past, the present and the future, all at the same moment in time. This unified moment of an extravagant, outpouring waiting to gush forth out of the insurmountable depths of Keller’s ‘Tohu Vabohu (primordial chaos)’; the bringing to birth of all the moments of our cosmic evolution onward and forward to the creation of our sun, solar system and planet earth in its hot molten form and all the ages of time on earth until now, outside time as we know it: all events happening at once, as recounted by Swimme and Berry.
The infinite possibilities of our incarnational becoming began to seed themselves inside me in another way through reading the Universe Story which gave me another starting point. This enigmatic narrative was also our human story, a perception which enlivened me to this new dawning, opening for me a whole new perspective on the Christian creation story in Genesis 1. I could see here the possibility to weave a new story one that leans toward a radical equality of gender. As this story unravelled in me, I realised this deep connection internally. It was deeply embedded within me and was indeed also a part of my story.
This reminded me of those deeply connected times in my life bringing a transforming moment where all was clear. My past would always be my past but somehow I could step through a doorway of another lifetime and world. Now my imagination would take me on a journey of visionary delights. I caught a glimpse of something awesome and I wanted to capture it in colour. It was inside me waiting to burst forth. I experience this in moments of meaningful connections in relationship, while painting or singing, and whilst having impassioned meaningful conversations. I reflected on my being as both a relevant part but also being very small in this expansive unfolding creative process.
The third panel was textured with an organic mix of material. Each panel after the big bang shows the unfolding process of that initial outpouring that was to bring life in abundance to our planet including us humans alongside other created beings, demonstrating that we are a symbiotic community who live interdependently.
This project began for me as a space to explore and focus on another starting point for girls’ spiritual/sexual empowerment theologically in a world that still exploits those two integral elements within the female of the species on many levels. However in the greater scheme of things it is an educational resource for all who encounter the sacred evolutionary walk. My art work and the cosmic walk are an integral part of exploring and informing the humanity of our story within the Cosmos.
Dr Megan Clay is an artist and independent scholar in Feminist Liberation Theology and the New Cosmology. She is Artist in Residence at the University of Winchester’s Cosmic Walk.