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A New Story for Children

Jennifer Morgan

Jennifer Morgan

Never forget that you are part of me. You are part of my wild and dazzling dream. Remember, too, that I am inside you.

Every cell in your body is packed with hydrogen made when I was born.
Your bones are hardened with calcium made by stars.
Your backbone was fashioned by fish.
The deepest part of your brain was built by reptiles.
The love you feel for another deepened inside the very first mammals.
Your awe-filled wonder began on starry nights around campfires, long, long ago.

My story lives inside of you and the story continues with you. Every day, you add more to the story. You are me being you, and through you I see myself...a huge restless Universe who loves to morph.

Our adventure has only just begun. There’s so much still to come. Follow your dreams, my dear Earthlings. They are my dreams too.

Your Universe

—From Book 3, Mammals Who Morph, by Jennifer Morgan

Thomas Berry, in his landmark essay “The New Story: Comments on the Origin, Identification and Transmission of Values” (Teilhard Studies no. 1, 1978), was among the first to express what many already knew but didn’t dare say—that the Western creation story no longer serves as a reliable rudder. Based on information people had thousands of years ago, it's no longer adequate for today and a new story based on up-to-date information and knowledge inside a larger context, according to Berry, hasn’t yet come into a form that's compelling enough to guide people as to how to live.

Almost thirty years have passed since Berry made this observation, and many are now asking how are we to create new creation stories. What should we teach our children? How can we build upon the wisdom of our elders and incorporate current scientific knowledge into a new cultural rudder? With globalization affecting every aspect of our lives, a metacreation story that retains the wisdom of traditional creation stories while including all cultures is needed. Amazingly, just as the need for a metacreation story is growing more urgent, science is providing just such a story, one that explains the beginning of the universe, including the emergence of life in all its magnificent forms! Science, however, cannot be the sole basis for a creation story because it isn’t—nor, I feel, should it be—concerned with the wisdom expressed in traditional creation stories. To what extent, then, can science help produce new creation stories? Can science-based stories serve the same function as traditional creation stories? The answer is, “Yes.”

Every culture across the globe has its own traditional creation story. In that these stories increased social cohesion and gave individuals a sense of identity and purpose, they probably also increased peoples’ chances of survival—since group identity was particularly important when people competed with other groups for resources. Additionally, these stories most likely inspired people, gave them a deep sense of excitement about life and comforted them during hard times.

If we shift our focus away from particular beliefs in these stories and look instead at the believers, we will see that, across the world, creation stories have elicited some or all of the following responses in children:
1. A sense of belonging to something greater than themselves
2. A feeling that they are not alone
3. Feelings of awe, reverence, and love
4. Connection to a deep mystery that underlies existence
5. A feeling of profound gratitude for existence
6. A sense of identity and purpose and feeling that everyone matters/is important
7. Peace and comfort
8. Zest for life

Creation stories also have provided the following:
1. A context for integrating information
2. The basis for an educational system that includes the transmission of values to children
3. Social cohesion within groups
4. Sanctity of suffering and encouragement of endurance
5. Answers to questions about where things come from

Traditional creation stories provide/have provided the above-named experiences because they inspire. They are deeply moving. Science also can be inspiring, particularly when enfolded in a story that includes the mythic dimensions of traditional stories. But it has been my experience that making science part of a mythic story that evokes the responses listed above makes many adults uncomfortable, if not downright hostile. Some scientists may feel that a “science plus” story compromises science. Some religious authorities may feel that their territory as tellers of the creation story is being usurped. Yet, both scientists and nonscientists are venturing into these uncharted waters, telling science-based stories that do evoke at least some of the responses traditional stories do. Many of today’s scientific breakthroughs confirm the wisdom of traditional creation stories, and the evidence these technological advances provide can serve as the basis for an educational system that, among with other things, will transmit our spiritual values to our children. A few of these breakthroughs are listed below along with the subjective responses, or spiritual experiences, they can evoke.

Scientific Evidence #1: The entire Universe is a single entity—provides a context for integrating information/knowledge.
Spiritual Experience: A sense of belonging.

A science-based story shows that everything is part of a single entity, the universe. Everything—all peoples, all life, and all “nonliving” things—have come out of a primordial fireball. Nothing is separate from the universe. Moreover, it is not possible to fling one’s self out of the universe because there is no “outside.” There’s only an inside...and everything is inside the universe. This scientifically established fact, which is at the heart of many religions, is deeply grounding and enables children to awaken to the here and now. Everything within the system affects other things/objects in the system; everything is interrelated.

In the 1940s, Maria Montessori had the prescience to make a universe story the centerpiece of the Montessori Cosmic Education for the elementary level. In the universe story taught, each thing is situated within the larger universe story. The child learns that it came out of and is part of a universe that transformed itself from clouds of hydrogen into, as Brian Swimme has often said, “giraffes, rosebushes, and humans.” The universe story awakens the child (and adult) to the reality that it is part of a universe that is a single entity. Everything that has existed and ever will exist is part of the ongoing dance of the universe.

Scientific Evidence #2: The Universe is a creative organizing force.
Spiritual Experiences: Awe, reverence and love.
Science is providing clear evidence that the universe has its own pervasive creative power that is greater than the child, greater than adults, and bigger than Earth. The universe births stars and life. Tiny bacteria replicate their DNA and reproduce themselves. The magnitude of what the universe does can be dumbfounding. Through creation stories the child can learn to love and understand the universe, to see itself as part of a field of creativity and to see the universe as teacher and guide. It can learn to see, as Thomas Berry said, that the universe is the primary scripture.

Scientific Evidence #3: The Universe is changing. Each thing is the Universe transformed into that thing.
Spiritual Experiences: Gratitude, connection to a deep mystery. Sanctity of suffering, encouragement of endurance.

A science-based creation story enables a child to understand that everything—including itself—has resulted from a transformational process that many call “the epic of evolution.” It realizes its utter dependence on a chain of innovations spanning 13.7 billion years that happened before it was born or even could be born. The child comes to know that its existence is owed to that chain of events, a process that it did not create—the events created the child. Each child is derived from the universe, and the child is the universe being the child.

The child learns that transformation can be cataclysmic, that destruction is part of creation. Human beings may experience these changes as crises, but such crises can result in innovations, thus propelling the story forward. The child learns not to take crises personally, that they are part of the transformation process. The child thus learns to be and remain empowered during personal and global crises. It learns to look for creativity within crises and to align its own energies with the universe’s creative forces. In doing so, the child learns how to endure hard times and further develop its cosmic gifts and contributions to the larger community.

Scientific Evidence #4: The Universe is a web of relationships. Everything derives its identity from the past and from its relationships with other things.
Spiritual Experiences: Understanding, cooperation, social cohesion, identity, purpose, a sense that all of life matters.

Through a universe story, a child learns that not only is it dependent upon everything that came before it, but also that its existence in the present depends, every day, upon the Sun and Earth, the universe as a whole, and a web of interdependent relationships. For example, plants and animals cannot live without each other: they exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide; plants feed animals, animals pollinate plants. The knowledge that everything in the universe is interdependent promotes cooperation, not only between humans but with nonhumans as well. The child also learns to value diversity because the universe story illustrates that the universe creates diversity and depends on it for survival. When crises, such as the meteor crash that ended the age of dinosaurs, occur, life continues because diversity increases the likelihood that some beings will be able to adapt to the new conditions created by the crises.

The child learns from a science-based creation story that everything has a cosmic gift and a cosmic task. The gift is the special capacity that each part brings to the whole. Plants, for example, have the capacity to release oxygen into the atmosphere, and that capacity is a gift to the larger community of life because other beings need oxygen to live. Plants do not intend to give others oxygen; but by releasing oxygen, they contribute to the complex web of life on Earth. With the knowledge of where it comes from and an understanding that everything has cosmic gifts and tasks, the child begins to develop a sense of its own unique gifts and tasks and learns to find its place within the larger whole. The result is a lasting and fulfilling sense of purpose.

Scientific Evidence #5: The Universe is changing now. Humans, like everything else, are part of an ongoing transformation process.
Spiritual experience: Zest for life.

A science-based creation story teaches the child that the creative process never stops—that stunning innovations are emerging today. The child learns that such transformations are creative, open-ended, and full of surprises. It learns that humans have become a driving force in the evolution of life. The child also learns that it, too, plays a role in a 13.7-billion-year-old process that unfolds each day with every event, large and small. The new creation story teaches the child the principles of evolution and that uncertainty is part of the process: outcomes are not given; choices can be made. This knowledge may engender excitement and motivate the child. Realizing that it participates in the greatest adventure of all, the adventure of the universe, hopefully evokes in the child what Teilhard de Chardin described as “zest for life.”

While traditional creation stories helped provide cohesion within specific groups, the new, science-based creation story provides a basis for promoting cooperation between different groups of human beings and with nonhuman life. With such a “new story,” an Earth community begins to emerge—precisely at the time when we need it most. Today’s issues are planetary, no longer limited to specific regions or specific peoples. The realization that Earth is a community in which all the parts depend for survival on each other is more imperative now than ever before. Since creation stories have always aided humans to survive, a new science-based story can aid the Earth community (as a whole) to survive. Our children, and all adults as well, urgently need to heed this message if we are to handle global issues in a context that emboldens us while giving us the wisdom we need to resolve those issues. Most importantly, the news that they are part of the greatest adventure of all—a vast and incredible universe that constantly loves to transform—ignites deep within children, and all of us, a fire that will show them and us how to live to the fullest.


Jennifer Morgan is a storyteller, author, educator and environmentalist who has a love of the natural world and cosmology. She has written a trilogy of children’s books about the universe story: Born With a Bang: The Universe Tells Our Cosmic Story (which earned the Learning Magazine Teacher’s Choice Award), From Lava to Life: The Universe Tells Our Earth Story and Mammals Who Morph: The Universe Tells Our Evolution Story.

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1 October 2008

Tagged Under
cosmology, Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, Earth, universe, New Story, children, creation,
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