A Tapestry of Creation
Philippa A. Rees, Involution, An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God,
Hertfordshire: CollaborArt Books, 2013. 427 pp. ISBN 978-0-9575002-0-4 (pbk) £17.99.
As soon as I heard about this book, I wanted to review it. Involution, An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God sounded completely different from anything I had ever read before – a challenge. On opening the book, I found a much-loved quotation by Teilhard de Chardin which I have often used when speaking of the work of the Alister Hardy Trust, RERC and SSSE: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
This set the scene for the adventure to begin – heralded by appreciations from people as diverse as Arthur Koestler, Konrad Lorenz and Irwin Schumacher (in the early years of The Theory of Involution) and forty years later for this book, with comments by Ervin Laszlo and David Lorimer among others. That in itself was an indication of the lengthy period of gestation, a labour of love for the author.
The prose Introduction offers the opportunity to explore the concept of involution before embarking on the main text of the Cantos in verse. I skipped ahead and read the Appendix first, as well as about the author’s extraordinary life and the experiences which triggered the book.
Involution proposes that humans carry within them the history of the universe, which is (re)discovered by the individual genius when the time is ripe. All is stored within our DNA and awaits revelation. Such piecemeal revelations set our finite lives in an eternal chain of co-creation and these new leaps of discovery are compared to mystical experience.
In nine Cantos of dialogue between Reason and Soul, Philippa Rees takes the reader on a monumental journey through the history of everything – with the evolution of man as one side of the coin and involution the other. The Cantos are complex and the extremely learned and extensive footnotes offering background knowledge are necessary and fascinating. In effect there are two books, offering a right and left brain approach.
As I wanted to understand the thinking as well as to feel the beauty of the verse, I was at times torn between the notes and the Cantos. I could not switch one off to concentrate on the other and hopped between the two. Sometimes I wondered if her chosen format was an advantage or a hindrance, but as Rees makes clear, there are plenty of prose works available on similar themes. She wanted to be – and certainly has succeeded in being – different. Ultimately I decided to read the explanatory notes to each Canto before immersing myself in the verse, where she weaves magic in her words.
Rees could have chosen any field to illustrate her theory of involution, as it encompasses everything. She chose to focus on science but embraces art, music and touches on religions. We are caught up in the vast sweep of human development and expansion of knowledge through the ages – from the earliest humans to the philosophy of Ancient Greece, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance to modern science and contemporary consciousness studies.
So does Philippa Rees reconcile science to God? She weaves the thread of God as underlying consciousness manifesting throughout creation, giving meaning to everything as opposed to all being a result of mere chance. The mystic vision reveals an underlying universal wisdom and the ever-present transcendent, which draws us to itself through love.
This is a personal review. It has had to be. Each reader will approach this remarkable book differently and each will read it and gain from it in their own way. I can only express what Involution, An Odyssey Reconciling Science to God has meant to me and hope that I have done some justice to a book which I have yet to fully comprehend, but will treasure.
The reader who finishes the book will not be the same as the one who began it. New ideas will expand the mind but more profoundly, the deep, moving power of the verse will affect the heart. This book was a written pilgrimage for Philippa Rees “(costing not less than everything)” in the words of T.S.Eliot and it is a privilege to share the experience with her.
Marianne Rankin (Director of Communications AHT&SSSE)This review was published in De Numine No56 Spring 2014