Where do we come from? Why are we here?
Ever since the dawn of time, humans have told stories to answer these questions. In recent generations with the revelations of science, we are awakening to new answers.
The Universe Story is the story from the big bang 13.7 billion years ago through the creation of stars, galaxies, planet Earth, life on Earth and our human journey on this planet.
The Universe Story tells us where we come from and it offers hints and clues as to why we are here. And we can draw metaphors from the story that can provide meaning and purpose in our lives.
What is a Cosmic Walk?
A cosmic walk is a walk pacing out the journey from the big bang to the present day. The length of the walk can vary, I often use about 1.5 km. And as the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, each pace of 1 metre represents 9.1 million years.
Time from the Distance from Distance between
Event Big Bang the start each section
(years) (meters) (meters)
Big Bang 0 0 0
Birth of Galaxies 500,000,000 55 55
Supernova 8,700,000,000 953 843
Earth formed 9,200,000,000 1,007 55
Earliest life 9,700,000,000 1,062 55
Nucleated cells 11,700,000,000 1,281 219
Multi-cellular organisms 12,700,000,000 1,391 109
Death of Dinosaurs 13,635,000,000 1,493 102
Modern Humans 13,699,800,000 1,499.98 7.09
Recorded human history 13,699,995,000 1,599.9995 0.214
Now 13,700,000,000 1,500 0.0005
When walking the Universe Story, people often feel a sense of awe and wonder. Wonder at the vastness, creativity, violence, diversity, evolution of life and more. Wonder is not just another emotion. It is an opening of the heart with a feeling of connection and belonging to this vast, expanding and amazing Universe. These feelings are deeply spiritual. When people feel this connection, they can feel compassion and responsibility for everything around them.
Participants often find the human journey fascinating. Around 100,000 years ago, a small group of modern humans left Africa to explore and populate the world. We are all descended from that small group our next door neighbour, the City Banker, the Chinese factory worker and the child just born into an Amazon tribe. Not only are we all part of the same tribe, we have to face many issues of our time such as climate change and the global economy together, as one people.
Many are surprised at how much space there is between events for most of the walk. And then in a short space at the end a great deal happens. For instance, in our 1.5 km walk, the whole of recorded human history from the pyramids to today (5,000 years) is half a millimetre, not much more than a hair’s breadth. Seeing this, we can understand that there is a much bigger process to the unfolding universe than our modern human experience.
Thomas Berry says:
The basic mood of the future might well be one of confidence in the continuing revelation that takes place in and through the Earth. If the dynamics of the Universe from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the Earth, if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and the seas and atmosphere, if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings, and finally brought us into being and guided us safely through the turbulent centuries, there is reason to believe that this same guiding process is precisely what has awakened in us our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to such guidance from the very structure and functioning of the Universe, we can have confidence in the future that awaits the human venture.
Thomas Berry – “The New Story” The Dream of the Earth
I have run projects and events on the Universe Story in schools, a prison and a mental health charity amongst others. And every time it created a buzz. It seems as though the Universe Story is a story for our time and people hunger to know more.
On a Cosmic Walk I ran at Braziers Park in Oxfordshire (www.braziers.org.uk) a firework was set off to represent the big bang. And we created the walk spiralling out from the big bang at the centre. The spiral represented the continuing unfolding of the Universe.
Another Cosmic Walk was with the Green Spirit SW Wales group in spring 2011. We learnt that the rocks we were standing on had been at the South Pole millions of years ago – a result of plate tectonics.
What makes a good Cosmic Walk?
Here are 3 tips:
Make it simple
It is easy to get caught up in the scientific details. When I was explaining the Universe Story to a friend who is University educated, she did not know what a galaxy was. Making the facts as simple and accessible as possible means that the participants can focus on the majestic unfolding of the Universe and the walk will appeal to a wider audience.
Include Poems and Stories
These make a big difference. Poems and stories bring imagination and excitement to the walk. And sometimes people love to have a few moments of silence to absorb a particularly profound poem or insight. Here is part of a story I use at the death of the dinosaurs:
A small foxlike mammal pops his head out of a small burrow and looks around. Tall pine trees stretch up to a blue, cloudless sky. Dragon
… A meteorite hits the Earth sending dust around the planet blotting out the sun. The surface cools and the dinosaurs – needing warmth – die out. The foxlike mammal, being nocturnal and used to the cold, survives the catastrophe. Without any predators, the foxlike mammals breed and spread out throughout the Earth. From them, many of the mammals we have around us today evolved – the tiger, the leopard, the seal, the stoat, the whale and many, many more. And from the ape evolved modern humans. And that is how we came to be on this Earth
These help participants to connect physically with the story. Here is one done by Greg Mortar with children:
“One [child] held a tennis ball to represent the Earth while the others hurled sugar, salt and couscous at it, to represent precious metals, water ice and carbon arriving on the Earth through the bombardment of comets. Just before the beginning of life, the Earth had cooled enough for it to begin to rain torrentially. We pulled out water pistols and had a water fight”.
pic Nick Victor