Cosmic Walk, an interactive ritual

Used with permission: reference

Appropriate for Earth Day, during the Season of Creation and other services focusing on the vastness of creation.

The Cosmic Walk, an inter-active ritual with actions and readings, invites participants into the story of the universe. Moving between ‘stations’ along a long rope laid out in a spiral, participants are introduced to 21 major events in the history of the universe and our earth.  ‘Cosmic’ music completes the scene.  This simple meditative exercise can be held in a large room or outside.

The Cosmic Walk is a way of bringing our knowledge of the 14 billion-year Universe process from our heads to our hearts.

Mary Ellen Curtin, CSJ, Still Point House of Prayer, New York, USA

Sister Miriam MacGillis of New Jersey USA, who created the original Cosmic Walk, based her text on the works of Thomas Berry (environmentalist and priest) and Brian Swimme (founder of the Center for the Story of the Universe).   The text has subsequently been modified and facilitated by many people around the world.

The complete version (with ready-to-print downloads) used at Kirkland United Church of Christ in Washington, USA, is included here:

PDF – The Cosmic Walk – complete script  download

WORD – The Cosmic Walk – complete script  download

The Cosmic Walk

This is a story, the story of the Cosmos. Mystery generates wonder and wonder generates awe. Today we take a glimpse at the beauty of our Cosmic Story, something of its deep mystery. It is the story of the universe, the story of Earth, the story of the human, the story of you and me.

  1. Great Emergence 13.7 billion years ago.

Some 13.7 billion years ago, our Universe flashes into existence. Time, space, and energy become the gifts of being. The Universe expands and cools rapidly. Energy condenses into matter, sub-atomic particles, radical new beings with new powers, and they in turn transform into atoms of hydrogen & helium, new beings with new powers. And the great mystery is there in the relationship.

  1. One billion years later, galaxies emerge.

Galaxies come forth. Stars are born, live, and die. Larger stars in their death throes explode and become supernovas. As they blast out into the cosmos, supernovas create in their wombs the elements of life.

  1. Two billion years later interstellar dust produces molecules.

Within the interstellar dust these chemical gifts of the supernovas are nurtured into simple organic molecules, vital components for the later emergence of life.

  1. 6 billion years ago, our grandmother star births the solar system.

Our ancestral star gives herself into the transforming mystery of a supernova. Our Sun and a great disk of matter, all the planets and other members of our solar system family, emerge from the dispersed body of our grandmother star. Here begins the story of what will become one blue-and-white pearl of a planet.

  1. 3 billion years ago, the Moon is born.

Comets and meteorites pelt the Earth’s thickening crust as it cools off. Earth is impacted by a mars-sized planetoid that causes some of the outer layers of the molten Earth and planetoid to splash out into Earth’s orbit, solidifying into the Moon. The Earth’s relationship with the Moon and Sun will choreograph the exquisite dance of life.

  1. 1 billion years ago, the miracle of rain.

Earth, a privileged planet in its size and in its distance from the Sun, slowly cooled, and gradually formed an atmosphere. As steam condenses above the Earth, the miracle of rain and weather cycles begin. The first rain falls, then torrential rains fall on, and on, and on until rivers run over the land and pool into great seas.

  1. 4 billion years ago, life emerges, first cells.

Within the newly formed oceans a rich variety of chemicals gather together to birth the wonder of life in the form of bacteria. Earth comes alive.

  1. 7 billion years ago, cells invent photosynthesis.

Bacteria run out of free food supplies. They invent new ways to capture energy from the sun, which they then use to create new sources of food from water and simple minerals. In the process, however, they give off oxygen, a deadly corrosive gas that eventually piles up in the atmosphere and threatens life.

  1. 2 billion years ago, oxygen-loving bacteria and the nucleated cell emerge.

These tiny creatures invent respiration, breathing, a new source of energy for Gaia. In the process they also enter into communion with larger cells thereby protecting them from oxygen. This communion leads into the nucleated cell, the basis for the evolution of all complex life.

  1. 1 billion years ago, sexual procreation emerges.

Life was mysteriously drawn toward union, and the first single-celled organisms learn to share their genetic heritage and bequeath to their progeny an extravagance of possibilities.

  1. 800 million years ago, multi-cellular life forms emerged.

Single-celled beings relinquish their immortality and enter into a great variety of novel relationships creating multi-celled sexual beings, all still within the sea, and creativity expanded rapidly throughout the waters of Earth.

  1. 600 million years ago, organisms begin to eat one another.

Predator organisms arise, ones who have learned to use the complex bio-molecules of neighboring organisms, thereby saving their own genetic resources for the development of greater physical capabilities. Worms and jellyfish appear with the first nervous system.

  1. 525 million years ago, sight is invented and fish emerge

Light-sensitive eyespots evolve into eyesight. The Earth sees herself for the first time and the first fish forms with back bones, encasing the Earth’s earliest nervous system along with the development of her sensory organs.

  1. 460 million years ago, plants and animals move on land.

Leaving the water, animals such as worms, mollusks, and crustaceans, seek the adventure of breathing air, surviving weather, and raising themselves against gravity. Algae and fungi venture ashore as well, the first plants evolve as mosses.

  1. 400 million years ago, insects invent flight.

Insects evolve with nearly weightless bodies that permit them to take to the air as the first flying animals.

  1. 335 million years ago, forests evolve.

Over generations, these forests load themselves with carbon extracted from the atmosphere which later becomes fossilized as coal and oil.

  1. 235 million years ago, dinosaurs emerge.

Following the 4th and greatest mass extinction the dinosaurs emerged. For 170 million years, these creatures explore the extremes of size, speed, and strength. They also develop a new pattern unknown previously in the reptilian world—parental care.

  1. 210 million years ago, mammals emerge.

The first mammals, small and nocturnal, jump, climb, swing, and swim through a world of giants. Some rodent-sized insect-eaters evolve lactation, enabling mothers to spend more time in the nest keeping their young both fed and warm.

  1. 150 million years ago, birds and flowers emerge.

Birds evolve from certain dinosaurs, following the insects into the vast vault of the sky while Earth adorns herself magnificently in colorful and fragrant flowers, making themselves irresistible to insects, and thereby invites the sky creatures into a new dance.

  1. 65 million years ago, the 5th mass extinction.

An asteroid 6 miles in diameter hits the Yucatan peninsula leading in time to a severe drop in temperature, marking the end of the age of dinosaurs and the beginning of the age of mammals, known as the Cenozoic Era. With the dinosaurs gone, the once dark and sheltered small mammals stride into daylight moving quickly to occupy available ecological niches. Over the course of the next 60 million years Earth greets rodents, whales, monkeys, horses, cats and dogs, antelopes, gibbons, grazing animals, orangutans, gorillas, elephants, chimpanzees, camels, bears, pigs, baboons and the first humans.

  1. 4 million years ago, Hominoids leave the forest, stand up and walk on two legs.

The savanna offers the challenges and opportunities for these early creatures to evolve into humans. They move over the surface of the Earth eventually spreading themselves over all six continents.

  • 100 thousand years ago, Modern Humans emerge. Language, shamanic and goddess religions, and art become integral with human life. Spirituality is born.
  • 11,000 years ago, Agriculture is invented. Humans begin to shape the environment, deciding which species shall live and which shall die.
  • 5,000 years ago, Classical Religions emerge. Hinduism, Confucianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam.
  • 260 years ago, scientists begin to calculate the Age of the Earth. Humans try to understand how old the Earth is through empirical observations.
  • About 80 years ago, empirical evidence of an Expanding Universe is discovered. 43 years ago, scientists find evidence of the Origin of the Universe as they see the Primodial Flaring Forth.
  • 40 years ago, Earth is seen as Whole from space. The Earth becomes complex enough to witness her own integral beauty. And the great mystery is there in the Universe becoming conscious of itself.

TODAY the story of the Universe is being told as our sacred Story. The Flaring Forth continues and the Great Mystery is here, as this moment, as us, as one.

A spiral representing the entire 14 billion years of the cosmic and evolutionary journey is laid out on the floor or ground. The rope needs to be 100 – 140 feet long.  Mark  each of the 21 stations at a proportionate distance along the length of the spiral.  Each such station is marked by an unlit votive candle and, optionally, by a card describing the emergence and a relevant picture or photo.

 The first station located at the very centre of the spiral, represents the Flaring Forth of the Universe itself. This primary emergence is represented by a lit candle by itself or sometimes within a large, faceted glass bowl. One person, the walker, lights a candle from the primary candle and walks the spiral, starting with the Flaring Forth and lighting each candle in turn. The walk is synchronised with the reading of the text below by a second person, the reader. One option is to have each person walking the spiral read the cards to themselves in silence, or to accompanying music.

 The ritual is often accompanied by music, traditionally “The Fairy Ring” by Mike Rowland  Part 1   and Part 2.   Another option is Kojiki produced by Kitaro, based on the ancient chronicle of the creation of Japan.  Numerous “cosmic” musical items are available, e.g. Music of the Spheres by Ecopark.  

Using some of the magnificent photo images from the NASA Hubble Telescope collection invites a sense of awe, mystery and amazement. Click here to view a photo gallery of Hubble photographs on the NASA website. NASA images on the Worship Words website are used with NASA permission, referencing  

This ritual works for any size group, the limitation being the audience’s ability to see the candles well. 

On-going Cosmic Story Link: to explore the continuing Cosmic Story see what’s happening in current astrophysics research click here.

Alternative versions:  Since the Cosmic Walk was born, many variation in text, process, and music have emerged.  A list of of these versions can be accessed here.  Feel free to create your own.

One thoughtful version was developed by a group at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Boulder, Colorado.

Click here for the full text.

The authors explain:

“This version, by Neal McBurnett with much help from Rev. Jacqueline Ziegler, John Russell and Bob Davis, tries to balance the original emphasis on Earth and biological evolution with more cosmic and cultural evolution. It builds on the versions by Ruth Rosenhek, Paulita Bernuy and the Still Point Retreat Center; the cosmic evolution research of Eric J. Chaisson; and the timelines written and collected by Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd at as well as the Universal History Translation Project.”

Recognising the delightful process of collaboration we’ve all used in this work, I licensed ours under the Creative Commons License: “share and share alike.”  — Neal McBurnett 

Louis Bélanger, posting on The Teilhard de Chardin Project website, reminds us that Thomas Berry was ‘a disciple of Teilhard.’  Bélanger describes his experience organising both a ‘Cosmic (evolution) walk, and a Noosphere-themed Labyrinth walk’ in Quebec. Click here to read  Bélanger’s post.

What is particularly striking is the lack of repetition in the developing universe. The fireball that begins the universe gives way to the galactic emergence and the first generation of stars. The later generations of stars bring into being the living planets with their own sequence of epochs, each differentiating itself from the rest. Biological and human history, with the ever fresh expressions of creativity, continues the differentiation of time from its beginning. Indeed all 15 billion years form an epic that must be viewed as a whole to understand its full meaning. This meaning is the extravagance of the creative outpouring, where each being is given its unique existence. At the heart of the universe is an outrageous bias for the novel, for the unfurling of surprise in prodigious dimensions throughout the vast range of existence.

Brian Swimme & Thomas Berry, The Universe Story, p.74
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