The Great Story and
Meditation Traditions

Presentations and Workshops for

On the Marriage of Religion and Science
for Personal and Planetary Wellbeing

by Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow

The Great Story is the story that honors and includes all other stories. Drawing upon the discoveries of the full range of sciences, it is the grand story of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity. Told in meaningful and dramatic ways, it becomes our collective sacred story — a shared story that cherishes and uplifts both scriptural and traditional stories and offers each of us the opportunity to find meaning and purpose in our lives and our time in history. The spiritual and psychological benefits that flow naturally from living within an awareness of this story are experienced as Great News by a growing number of people the world over. Great news, in turn, draws each of us to participate in, what celebrated cultural historian Thomas Berry calls, "The Great Work" — the work of ensuring a just, healthy, beautiful, and sustainably life-giving world for future generations.

MICHAEL DOWD, whose mentors include Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh and deep ecologist Joanna Macy, is a former pastor, sacred storyteller, and nationally recognized speaker/community organizer. He and his wife, CONNIE BARLOW, an acclaimed author of popular science books, embody the marriage of science and spirit as husband and wife. They view themselves as emissaries of a worldwide spiritual movement that draws from the contemporary wisdom of those on the growing edge of evolution and meaning. Michael is the author of EarthSpirit: A Handbook for Nurturing an Ecological Christianity — which was inspired by the writings of cultural historian Thomas Berry and cosmologist Brian Swimme. Connie's most recent book, The Ghosts of Evolution, was's top recommended science book for several months in 2001. Both have addressed a wide range of secular and religious audiences.

Presentation Topics

Note: Presentations drawn from the following list will be tailored to the particular needs of each audience and can be mixed and matched to accommodate any length of program — from an hour to a week. Descriptions for some of these follow this summary list of titles.


  • Beyond Sustainability: A Hopeful, Inspiring Vision of the Future (M)
  • Great News for a New Millennium (M)
  • Why Eastern Wisdom is Destined to Transform the WorldÉSoon! (M)
  • The Key to Celebrating Conservative and Liberal Differences (M)
  • America's Great Awakening to Its Destiny (M)
  • The Cosmic Task of the Human (C)
  • Why Women's Wisdom is Destined to Transform the WorldÉSoon!


  • The Tao of Deep Time (M)
  • Darwin's Great Gift to Religion East and West (M)
  • Can the Universe Be Trusted? (M)
  • Remember Who You Are! (C & M)
  • The Marriage of Science and Religion for Personal and Planetary Wellbeing (M & C)


  • Embodying the Ecozoic Era, Here, Now (M & C)
  • Spiritual Practice and The Great Work (M)
  • Staying Inspired in Challenging Times (M)
  • Science, Spirituality, and Passion for Life (M)
  • Evolutionary Mysticism for Everyday Life (M & C)
  • Green Space Green Time: The Spirituality of Science (C & M)


  • The Dharma of Evolution (M)
  • Embracing Both the Reality and Unreality of Time (M)
  • Enlightenment in an Evolutionary Context (M)
  • Mindfulness and Mindlessness: An Evolutionary Perspective
  • Our North American Story: From T. rex to Today (C)
  • Becoming Native to Place: A Deep Time Perspective (C)
  • After Death: An Evolutionary Perspective on the Importance of Death in the Cosmos (C)


  • We are Stardust! A Workshop and/or Ritual
    (How the atoms of our bodies and our world were formed)
  • Earth Had a Challenging Childhood
    (How bad news catalyzes good news)
  • Coming Home to North America Ritual
    (The 65 million year sacred story of our continent)
  • The Evolutionary Wisdom of Bacteria and Plants
    (Learning from our elders)
  • Pluto, the Adopted Planet
    (True science story teaches kids about adoption)

    Because we often add new titles to our list of presentations, if you are interested in a program listed above which lacks a description below, simply ask us to email you a description.

    How does our perception of the "big picture" impact us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually? How can we understand difficult times in ways that empower and enliven us and our communities? Michael interprets widely accepted scientific and historical understandings that can support each of us in creating our own realistic and hopeful visions of the future.

    The Great Story of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity can breathe new life into humanity's most deeply held sacred stories. It can also heal the rift between science and religion and between different religions. Traditional sacred stories inspire billions of people the world over, yet they also present a challenge because each can be interpreted as competing with the others in the arena of truth. The Great Story provides the context for all other great stories. By offering a framework for interpreting traditional religious stories cosmologically (as pointing to fundamental truths about the cosmos and our relationship to it), the discoveries of science can free these narratives to speak to our hearts and minds in a fresh way. From this perspective, not only can the Great Story enrich, enliven, and ennoble our most ancient and meaningful sacred stories; it can also help us to integrate faith and reason. In turn, religious and philosophical perspectives are crucial for translating the wealth of scientific facts into a meaningful narrative. Discoveries in the full range of sciences provide the raw elements of a story — for many versions of a story — but meaning and coherence emerge only as we step up to the task of creating an authentic relationship with those story elements. In a lively, engaging presentation, Michael and Connie introduce this new, inclusive, and inspiring perspective and show how the Great Story bridges a rich diversity of religious and secular perspectives.

    Why is the emergence of a globally created, scientifically sound, and deeply meaningful creation story 'Great News' for humanity and the full community of life? In what ways is this Great Story a meta-religious frame that enriches a wide range of religious perspectives? How can it deepen one's religious faith and foster hope, love, and gratitude, even in challenging times? The beauty of this over-arching story can perhaps be seen most clearly in how it supports each of us to discover our calling — where our heart's great joy and the world's great need intersect — and how it assists us as individuals and communities to fulfill our unique role or roles in the Great Work of ensuring a just, healthy, beautiful, and sustainably life-giving world for future generations.

    William James, the great philosopher and father of American pragmatism, believed that how we regard the Universe makes a huge difference in the way we live. He wrote, "From a pragmatic point of view, the difference between living against a background of foreignness [an indifferent cosmos] and one of intimacy [a benign cosmos] means the difference between a general habit of wariness and one of trust." In this presentation, Michael offers that perhaps the most important philosophical stance we take — knowingly or unknowingly — is the degree to which we trust Reality (or have faith in God). In an animated stage presentation, he presents five ways in which science reveals that the Universe can be trusted. More, he shows the practical difference it makes in our lives when we confront life's unending challenges from a place of trust, or faith.

    Cultural and religious historians recognize two spiritual "Great Awakenings" that swept through America during the 18th and 19th centuries and which stimulated major social reforms — notably, an expanded opposition to slavery. These Great Awakenings were catalyzed by religious revival meetings — the tent encampments that brought passion and possibility for salvation to millions of Americans in small towns and rural counties. Itinerant preachers and teachers played vital roles in these two awakenings. What about today? Michael shares evidence that we are in the early stages of a new and far more inclusive Great Awakening, whose sphere of influence will be larger, wider, and even more enlivening than the previous two. He also shares a deeply inspiring vision of young people in America coming to play a vital role in moving humanity into a truly life-giving future.

    The most significant scientific breakthrough of the last century may turn out not to be the decoding of the human genome, nor our detection of the remnant energy of the Big Bang. Rather, we may come to see the pivotal contribution of 20th century science as the gradual uncovering of that creative Reality which many cultures have traditionally called God. Paradoxically, this same science also supports the atheistic claim that the Universe is best understood as genuinely and profoundly creative — that the creativity resides within. As this "Universe as nested creativity" awareness spreads throughout the world and its implications become manifest, there is a real likelihood that it will transform the social and political landscape much as the "Universe as machine" metaphor transformed western culture and values during the 18th and 19th centuries. This presentation offers a realistic, hopeful, and inspiring vision of our past, present, and possible futures.

    What is the role of the human in the epic of evolution? As we work to lessen our impress on planet Earth and to turn around the Sixth Great Mass Extinction we ourselves have ignited, is there also a nobility we can aspire to? Seventy years ago, biologist Julian Huxley (and, from him, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin) observed that we are evolution become conscious of itself — the Universe awakening to the grandeur of its own story. How might arts and values complement our scientific understanding by enabling us to become, as Thomas Berry urges, "Celebrants of the Universe Story"?

    Theologian Thomas Aquinas said centuries ago, "Any error about creation also leads to an error about God." In pre-scientific western cosmology, there was no conception of "the Universe." "The world" was considered a thing, an artifact made by the hand of God, perfect and unchanging. The idea of change over time, or evolution, was thus seen as a deviation from the divine plan. Any shift in theology was, of course, also suspect. If the entire cosmos is in fact evolving, however, then our theologies — how we think and speak about the divine — must also evolve, or gradually become irrelevant and meaningless. Now, what if this fact is not a problem, but a blessing? Is it possible to move beyond ignoring, resisting, or tolerating evolution, to excitedly embracing and celebrating it? To make this shift is to understand why theologian John Haught regards evolution as "Darwin's great gift to theology." This presentation will assist us in reweaving our notions of the divine with an understanding of the world as presented by science, so as to create a tapestry that delights and empowers us as individuals and blesses our world.

    OUR NORTH AMERICAN STORY: From T. rex to Today
    In a richly illustrated slide talk or interactive discussion with hand-held graphics and props, we present the marvelous story of our continent, a story which begins 65 million years ago when a giant meteor put an end to the Age of Dinosaurs. Thenceforth, awesome phases of climatic and geological change supported waves of immigration, emigrations, and stunning diversifications of mammals and other animals on this continent. Based on Tim Flannery's acclaimed book The Eternal Frontier and Connie's The Ghosts of Evolution (both published in 2001), we highlight three broad ecological and evolutionary principles that apply to human interactions with the continent as well as to the broader animal experience: the founder effect, ecological and social "release", and adaptation. From these it is possible to see how our modern culture could begin to work with the long-term dynamics of this continent, bringing environmental healing to the landscape and an opportunity for all residents, no matter how recent our roots, to become indigenous to this land. An essay by Connie on this theme was published in the summer 2002 issue of Wild Earth.

    This 90 minute to 2 hour ritual uses the storyline of the preceding program and presents it in a dramatic, participatory storytelling. The eight characters are read and acted out by volunteers or teams of volunteers. The only crucial prop is a long rope, laid out on the floor in the shape of the continent. Parts of the ritual are playful, others reverential. The concluding section is a moving, spontaneous creation of all the participants, who each recount their ancestral journeys to the continent and then speak commitments to this land as home. Penny Andrews, director of the MinGei Center for Creation Spirituality (near Madison, WI), hosted our bringing this ritual to the center. She wrote: "The North American ritual that Connie and Michael shared was a most powerful kinesthetic experience. Through a playful and celebratory tone, I began to feel shifts of time within me. I was deeply moved." Click here to see the script and directions for ritual facilitation, "Coming Home to North America".

    Here is a moving way to actually feel our deep, ancestral connection to the stars. Participants are first offered the fascinating story of what scientists have discovered about our stellar heritage, since 1957. Then we move into a participatory program or full-scale ritual experience. Click here to see the ritual components or to see the detailed background information that serves as the basis for instruction.

    Connie draws from her 1997 book, Green Space, Green Time: The Way of Science, to offer a pathway toward ecospirituality that she calls "the way of science." Well received in the deep ecology community and among those inspired by the Great Story (as told by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme), this "Way of Science and the Epic of Evolution" (as extracted from her book) was the cover story of the Nov/Dec 1998 issue of UU Worldmagazine, which serves North American members of Unitarian Universalist societies. She has presented this talk at UU churches in New York and New Mexico and as the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American Teilhard Association.

    It takes a Great Story, a story experienced as Great News, to inspire Great Work. What is the Great Work of our time and how do we each find and respond to our callings at the growing edge of evolution? This workshop highlights an exercise in which participants will be invited to reflect on the key facets of their own great joy, and to notice where their hearts are most touched by Earth's great need. One's role or roles in the Great Work are revealed at the intersections of these two sets. This talk builds upon the Summer 2001 issue of EarthLight, where Connie and Michael outlined "Four Pillars of Ecozoic Activism": Allurement, Trust, Compassion, and Gratitude. These four ways of being are a foundation upon which plans and actions for making a difference in the world can be generated.

    Geologists have divided the last 550 million years into three eras of life: Paleozoic (oceanic and early land life), Mesozoic (dinosaurs, ferns, redwood trees), and Cenozoic (mammals, birds, flowering plants). The human impact on landscapes, ecology, and biodiversity is now so great, however, that one can make the claim that the current geological era, the Cenozoic, is coming to a close. To empower the shift to a reverent and restorative relationship with Earth, beloved cultural historian Thomas Berry urges us to envision an Ecozoic Era. In this interactive presentation, we will discuss Thomas's vision and create our own, and examine these in light of traditional views of the "end times" and/or coming reign of God.

    In this presentation by Connie, "elder wisdom" is meant in two ways. First, that many taxa and forms of plants are exceedingly ancient, and that some have adaptations that are reminiscent of much earlier times. What might a conifer forest have looked like when long-neck dinosaurs were browsing branches, maintaining trails? What would have been the mix of shrubland and grassland in the semiarid lands of North America 13,000 years ago, when this continent was home to large browsers: native camels, mastodons, and ground sloths? The remarkable, and hopeful, tale of ginkgo is one of the stories Connie draws upon, as well as other examples of "anachronistic" fruits or thorns highlighted in her book, The Ghosts of Evolution. The second meaning of "elder wisdom" is drawn from chapter 8 of that book. There she explores ways in which wild animals, along with indigenous human cultures, have learned through millennia the fine art of detoxifying the poisons ("secondary metabolites") of plants ingested as food. For example: Why do female forest elephants risk their lives in order to lick weathered volcanic rock (clay) from cave interiors? Why is it important to pay attention to the processing and cooking techniques developed by in-place cultures whenever we westerners import exotic food crops? This combination slide program and demonstration was enthusiastically received by students at the Heartwood Institute in California.

    Click here for WORDS OF PRAISE from various retreat centers.

    Scheduling Presentations

    Michael and Connie are passionate about these topics and will present them wherever there is interest. To help ensure that groups and institutions with limited financial resources also have an opportunity to hear this Great News, rather than charge a set fee for their services, they accept whatever honoraria are generally offered and will also speak pro bono, or on a free-will, love-offering basis, as long as housing is provided. They schedule appearances on a region-by-region basis to minimize transportation time and costs. To learn when they will be in your region, click on ITINERARY. To discuss the possibility of having them speak at your synagogue or organization, contact:

    Michael and Connie's itinerant lifestyle is made possible by a commitment to voluntary simplicity and the generosity of those who open up their homes to them for a few days or longer. Depending on whether we are also presenting for other organizations in your town or city, we may ask you to locate HOME HOSPITALITY for us for the night preceding a morning service or that follows an evening workshop. Click here for a handy list of information on our home hospitality needs. We intend this list to supply prospective hosts with all the information they need to feel comfortable in extending us an invitation.

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