My Awakening to the Nature of Religion



The life-lesson I’ve come to is: Religion is ‘Natural’. All consciousness, all existence is about ‘relationship.’The words 'religion' and 'relation' both derive from the Latin word “religere”, to relate. If we believe in a Creator-God, we must also believe that the Self-Same Creator-God is manifest in Creation/Nature. But, I sense that we, the highest form of evolved life, have failed to come to a grounded sense of unity-consciousness, and to the role of symbiosis in the evolution of life. Ultimately, all energy/matter, all processing of earth-life, link back to Big-Bang origins and to wave/particle harmonics

Enlightenment is a process of evolving complexity consciousness. The mature consciousness I’ve come to is that religious consciousness (spirituality) is an evolved aspect of self-reflective consciousness, what is common to humankind; humankind, in turn, is evolved from common life-on-earth. All Earth-life is of-a-piece, as all consciousness is of-a-piece. Thus, the grounding of theology, as an aspect of complexity consciousness, derives directly from ecology, earth-life's holistic complex. My life journey of learning nature is one with my life journey of learning religion. My life has been a nature-journey into religious enlightenment.

Born to Iowa farm parents, in February 1933, second youngest child in a family of two girls and eight boys, and growing up in depression years, my life experience tended to be on the serious side. Eleven years of focused study (1946-1957) in preparation for becoming a Roman Catholic priest with the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) prepared me well in knowledge of liberal arts, sciences and religion. Conventional High School/College courses with the SVD gave me grounding in earth-science, and a holistic life-sense of theology. A converging sense of ‘eco-theology’ informed my understandings of human/divine connections. Years of language study, including Latin and Greek, text-books in Latin and classes (Philosophy and Theology) taught in Latin, connected me to the wisdom of the ages (but also very much infected my vocabulary with Greek-Latinized words).

At the end of my two-year Philosophy course (Spring 1956), I came to a vocation sense more open in its mission interest than that of a priest with the SVD Missionary Order. I informed the Prefect of Seminarians, Fr. John Musinsky, SVD, of my thinking that didn’t include my future with the SVD; perhaps a bit surprised but solicitous for my interests nevertheless, he urged me to continue on one more year with the Class of First Theologians; which I did. Knowing my interest in natural sciences, he signed me up at DePaul University, Chicago, in the summer of 1957 for an Embryology course.

By summer’s end, I decided it was time to move on. In the back of my mind I was aware of the STEFFEN FARM SUPPLY business in New Hampton, Iowa, a business of my brothers Norbert and Vincent. A new, and as yet undeveloped aspect of their business, was a method of on-farm storing and drying wet-harvested corn. Upon 'returning to the world', I discussed with them how I could fit into their business. We discussed specifically, exploring the sciences of Botany and Agricultural Engineering, with respect to the storage-management of corn grain. What became clear was that this was an entirely new field of science, wholly undeveloped, and that problems of spoilage of stored corn-grain were not well understood, nor was the science of the natural process of seed after-ripening and drying of corn-grain as occurs naturally. We agreed to the need of original research to find scientifically correct answers, precisely because of the significance of cereal grains to global ecologies/economies.

We took up our concerns with Agricultural Engineering Researcher and Professor William V. Hukill, at Iowa State University. I was invited to matriculate at Iowa State University for the 1958 Winter-Spring classes in Botany, and, to begin research studies of germination of corn grain exposed to different levels of heat, and no heat, when artificially dried. By the end of Spring Quarter, May 1960, I completed my studies and research work graduating with a Master of Science degree in Botany. We developed the grain drying technology of 'CHILLCURING' (see at Wikipedia). Thereafter, I continued on in business (Harvestall Industries Inc.) with my brothers for the next 30 years until becoming physically disabled.

Isaiah came to the sense that “all flesh is grass”. Grass-seeds are the flour of daily bread. Nature is gratuitous; that is, it gives freely even as it takes back freely. The fulfilled life in passing gives back to life its increments of insight into ‘eucharistic’ consciousness, what is express appreciation of natural eucharist. All life is inter-active, caught up in the ‘evolution of symbiosis’; we need to intentionally reflect and reflectively appreciate ‘eucharist and the grain that light made’. The self-reflective biological/ theological interface holistically intuits 'Eucharistic Ecumenism' as the 'Religion of Inclusion’; that continues to be the focus of my writing and study.

Sylvester L. Steffen,

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