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Grace & Evolution

That same open space that nature holds so that all things can exist is the space that in religious language we call grace.

As a scientist, I’ve always felt that science and the created world was the way I experienced god. Nature has always been a kind of religious experience for me. Theology conceptualizes god, but for me, the felt experience of revelation is almost always through the created world. It has always seemed strange to me that the study of the created can be seen as separate from the study of the force that creates. I’ve always felt there was a certain symmetry between the scientific pursuit and the spiritual one. Even if one doesn’t believe the natural world to be created, the spirit of the quest is the same. Both pursuits are a journey into an endless mystery. In science, as soon as one thing is discovered, it becomes obsolete as the next thing opens up a deeper understanding. The universe and its secrets are infinite. This is the joy of scientific pursuit. It is the same as I have journeyed into god. Whatever I have made of god today, I find I will unmake tomorrow. I’ve held many firm beliefs in the past that now seem obsolete at best and embarrassing at worst. Lots of people call this deconstruction these days, but for me, it has always just simply been the spiritual journey. Thomas Merton said, “If the you of five years ago doesn’t consider the you of today a heretic, you’re not growing spiritually.” In scientific language, this is nothing more than evolution. I think about how funny it would be if, in nature, a thing were embarrassed by less-evolved forms now that it had evolved to be more complex. Nature doesn’t  “think” in those terms, it just evolves. Nature has no plan about its evolution, it holds no judgements about what kinds of life are better or worse, it holds space for them all and they all depend upon one another to survive. We could learn from that. That same open space that nature holds so that all things can exist is the space that in religious language we call grace. Not the kind of grace that has a pre-determined idea about what should and should not happen and forgives those things it deems wrong, but the kind of grace that holds open an infinite space full of possibilities - even possibilities that we might feel an impulse to reject. Without that kind of grace, I would not have evolved spiritually.

Some years ago, I was on a silent retreat, and we were given an exercise in which we wrote down all the things in life that had caused us to change and grow. My list had a few things on it that were positive life experiences, but the vast majority were things that had caused anguish and suffering in my life. Trauma that had been inflicted either by my own choices or by others. I thought about the truth of this. Nature reveals this truth in evolution. The engine of change in evolution is error. Errors on genomes, infections, environmental catastrophes, and the like. And yet spiritually, we try to get around this principle. As a spiritual director, people who come to me are often experiencing just this sort of chaos, and so many feel as though something is wrong. They have stepped out of the boat, see the chaos of the wind and the waves, and are looking for solid ground to stand on or a hand to pull them out. It is a natural impulse to try to find some kind of control in our lives. We want so much to get things right and do things right. And yet, when we look back on our lives, it’s easy to see that so often mistakes, errors, catastrophes, even sins have brought forth growth and evolution. Embracing this truth has meant that I’ve had to make space for the uncontrolled chaos and discomfort of it all. I spent years trying to control the mess and keep things clean and tidy. The search for right doctrine, right living, right thinking was central to my spiritual journey. I thought it would be control that would lead me to god, but time and again life has shown me that control is a deception. My quest for it has caused a great deal of personal suffering and suffering for those around me as I tried to enact what I believed was god’s agenda in my life. Surprisingly, it’s the embrace of chaos that has become the most life giving thing.  I see it all around me now, both in god and in nature. The chaos of fallen leaves decompose and create fertile soil. The mess our cows leave behind becomes rich compost. The prodigal son in the filth with the pigs, the unclean sinners that Jesus touched, the man born blind so that the works of God might be revealed, the violent chaos of crucifixion. It’s everywhere, creating life, revealing God.

My experience at SSU has been one of those open spaces of grace. It has been unlike any other educational experience I’ve had before. Education is often a space in which the answers are given rather than questions being explored. Or if questions are explored, it is often within the controlled and accepted dogma of the discipline. We are told what to think, what to believe. Ideas are controlled. It is rare to encounter an educational space where ideas are explored freely, and risks are taken to create the fertile soil required for growth.

I have made so many rich connections at SSU and have heard story after story of how people are stepping out of comfortable, safe places and into riskier, messier places. Each story also contains some element of life that was created from it. I hope as you read this you can reflect upon your own evolution and you are able to embrace the errors, the chaos and the catastrophes that have been the engine of your life.


Heather Reynolds completed a certificate in Religion, Peace and Justice through the Jim Forst Institute, and a Masters of Ministry at SSU. She has an MS in quantitative biology and is currently writing her MA thesis on Grace. She lives on a small hobby farm outside of Fort Worth, Texas with her husband. Together they have a blended family of five adult children, three with spouses, and one grandchild. On their little farm they keep chickens, bees, a donkey, goats, two cats, two dogs and gardens. Heather loves to write, loves ideas of all kinds, is a believer in God (whatever God may be), and a non-believer in just about every description of god there is. She is a certified spiritual director and has been trained in hypnotherapy. To keep the lights on, she heads up the clinical research department for a glaucoma surgical device company in California.

She blogs occasionally at

She dislikes labels, but here are some of hers:

Pronouns: She/her/hers

INTJ, 5w4 sx on the Enneagram: The iconoclast  īˈkänəˌklast/ noun: a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions.


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