How Do I See The Universe and Man’s Place In It

by Philip Sherrard

The universe is a hierarchy of levels descending from the formless spiritual level down to the most dense material form. Each level is a “condensation” of the one above it, and correspondingly each is contained in the one above it. The highest level is linked with the lowest through a series of intermediary levels, so much so that the most spiritual level is present in each fragment of the universe. In more formal language, God is the living center of all things and invisibly present in all; or more correctly, all things are rooted in God.

This hierarchy is not static. God is not static and so nothing that comes from God is static either. All phenomenal reality is a pulsating field of spiritual energies — energies inaccessible to the observation of the human reason and, a fortiori, to that of any instrument devised by the human reason. Moreover, everything in the universe is continually being recreated by the immediate activity of these spiritual energies. The process of creation is continually and everywhere being enacted “in the beginning.” It is a continual and ever-present opening of the centers of the birth of life in which each creature, each speck of dust even, comes into existence at the center not only of its own time and space but of all time and space.

This hierarchic order and its dynamic quality are mirrored in man. Thus the highest point of man’s being — the divine image in him — contains in itself, in seed or germinal form, all his subsequent aspects, from the subtle level of his psychic and thought world down to the physical level of his body and its organs. In this way, man is the microcosm.

He is also more than microcosm. He occupies a central position in the whole because he is the communication channel between highest and lowest, between God and materiality, for he is the one being capable of participating consciously in both. It is on this conscious participation that the harmony of the universe depends. Hence man’s key role: he has to ensure that he can function as this communication channel and does not close himself up in the lower (rational and physical) levels of this being and so become impervious to the harmonizing spiritual influx. He can ensure this only through incessant prayer and inner cleansing, leading to ever deepening awareness of this spiritual nature and so to a growing understanding of God. Man’s chief task, now and always, and one upon which the spiritual, psychic and physical health of all things depends, is to achieve this awareness and understanding. In short, it is one of trying to love God with all his heart.

This is part of a paper presented at the Conference on Modern Science and Traditional Religions Consultation, Windsor, England, in March 1976. Sherrard was the author of Christianity: Lineaments of a Sacred Tradition as well as over 20 books ranging across Orthodox theology and spirituality, the ecological crisis, his own poetry as well as translations of modern Greek poetry, and the history of ideas. He became Orthodox in the early 1950s and was a magnet for several generations of young people seeking a fuller faith. He died in 1995.