The Earth Offers and the Earth Requires

And God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living breathing beings and let the birds fly over the earth, against the face of the firmament of heaven.” And God created the great sea monsters and every living breathing being that creeps, with which the waters swarmed according the their kinds, and every winged bird according to their kinds. God saw that it was surely good. And God blessed them saying, “Branch off and become many, and fill the waters in the seas. Let the birds become many on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, Day 5.

Genesis 1:20-23

plankton2
Plankton

A headline from National Geographic reads “Source of Half Earth’s Oxygen Gets Little Credit,” explaining that plant respiration is only responsible for half of the oxygen we breathe. The other half comes from the tiny ocean dwellers called phytoplankton who also metabolize carbon dioxide into oxygen.¹ The ocean is teeming with swarms of things that give us oxygen to breathe.

birds
http://www.authentic-distribution.com

Audubon Magazine asked it’s readers, Why do birds matter? Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation for the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Flyway, answered in this way:

Birds are important because they keep systems in balance: they pollinate plants, disperse seeds, scavenge carcasses and recycle nutrients back into the earth. But they also feed our spirits, marking for us the passage of the seasons, moving us to create art and poetry, inspiring us to flight and reminding us that we are not only on, but of, this earth.²

Over our heads are winged creatures who spread life and poetry against the backdrop of the firmament.

And God blessed them saying, “Branch off and become many, and fill the waters in the seas. Let the birds become many on the earth.” This blessing carries with it the creatures that make life sustainable on earth. We experience this blessing every time we breathe.

I can’t speak thoroughly to the science of our ecosystem, but I know that it’s both perfectly tuned for life and delicate. Since the beginning of industrialization, carbon emissions have caused a steady decrease in the acidity of our oceans. This altered environment threatens the stability of life for the swarms of teeming things, and thus threatens the stability of the environment as a whole.

“We do not understand the earth in terms of what it offers us or what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand.”
-Wendell Berry³

If you are seeking to not destroy the earth, there are somethings you already understand about it.  1) Creation is to be loved because God made it and it is absolutely lovely, scientifically and otherwise. 2) We are irrevocably interconnected.

As yourself today, what is the earth offering? Start with your breath. Ask yourself next, what is it requiring of me? Start with gratitude.

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it;
 for he has founded it on the seas,
    and established it on the rivers.”
Psalm 24

 

¹ http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/06/0607_040607_phytoplankton.html

² http://www.audubon.org/magazine/march-april-2013/why-do-birds-matter

³ Wendell Berry, “Think Little” in The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry (Berkley: Counterpoint, 2002), 85.

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Day 4: A Call to Wonder

“And God said, “Let there be light in the firmament of heaven to separate between the day and the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years. And let those light be in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser and the stars to rule the night. And God placed them in the firmament of the heavens to shine on the earth, and to rule the day and the night, and to separate between the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. There was evening and there was morning, day 4.”

Genesis 1:14-19

Day 4 is a little embarrassing, don’t you think?  The sequence is all off – how did all of the vegetation created on Day 3 come to be and continue to live without sunlight? Those who desire for the 7 days of creation to speak to scientific realities are left blushing, those who use science to question the integrity of Scripture are left celebrating.

But to say such things is to believe that the first tellers of the story either paid no attention to detail or had no idea how the earth worked. The Hebrew people lived and died by the land and these greater and lesser lights. They paid attention; their lives depended on it. They knew that plants depended on the light from the sun to grow. And based on this Day 4 passage, they even used the sun, moon, and stars to mark time. We need clocks and calendars for that now.

The first tellers of the story and all of the generations who passed it along in this form were not ignorant.  They knew that this was “out of sequence.” So the question for us should be Why are they telling it this way?  This hiccup in sequence is a call to wonder, it’s a call to look up.

In an OnBeing interview with Krista Tippet¹, Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno describes his time with the Peace Corps in Kenya teaching astronomy to graduate students. His lectures drew out entire villages. Everyone wanted to hear about astronomy, everyone wanted to look through the telescope.  He was struck by the reality that the people of Kenya were just as fascinated by the night sky as the people of Michigan. “And it suddenly dawned on me, well, of course. It’s only human beings that have this curiosity to understand: What’s that up in the sky? How do we fit into that? Who are we? Where do we come from? And this is a hunger that is as deep and as important as a hunger for food…”

What’s up in the sky?
How do we fit into that?
Who are we?
Where do we come from?
These were questions that the Hebrew people were asking, too.

Tonight, put on a sweater, grab a blanket and a pillow, and go where you can see the sky. Ask the questions that people for all of human history have been asking, wonder about what the answers might be. Imagine the Hebrew people doing the same; laying themselves out on the ground attending to the part of creation that hangs above them, asking the same questions we ask. I wonder if Genesis 1:14-19, Day 4, is their answer to these questions. I wonder.

Why did they choose to tell it this way?

May we wonder.

¹ http://www.onbeing.org/program/guy-consolmagno-and-george-coyne-asteroids-stars-and-the-love-of-god/transcript/7956#main_content

Light and Dark: It’s Pretty Neat

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God made a distinction between the light and the darkness. God called the light day and the darkness God called night. And it was evening and it was morning, day one.

Genesis 1:3-5

Light and darkness is one of our most enduring false dichotomies. Light and darkness are seen as opposite, opposed to one another, and entirely different from one another. We have even endowed the concepts of light and darkness with the moral dualism of good and evil. Good lives in the light, and evil dwells in the darkness. Or so we insist. This light/dark dichotomy even touches our social construction; dark skin is threatening, light skin is not. To say the very least about it, this construct is deeply problematic. How else might we think about light and darkness?

Before God created the light, God dwelled in the darkness. And there is nothing to indicate in the text that this darkness was not good; this darkness is not hostile or “evil.” “Indeed,” writes William Brown, “God’s breath suspended, ‘hovering’ over the dark waters… could suggest a relationship of intimacy as opposed to enmity.”¹

God created light and delighted in it saying, “it is good.” But darkness was not subsequently banished. Darkness and this newly created light were separated and then named: day and night. Darkness and light became parts of a foundational whole: together they became the measure of a full day.

Life in the Dark

They certainly look like opposites, but together they host the fullness of creation’s activity. Did you know that nearly half of the species on Earth are nocturnal?² That means that half of the life on earth is dependent on the darkness to go about their natural processes. Artificial light – from things like airports and cities – actually cause light pollution which disrupts the natural rhythms of many species.

We humans, like many other creatures, depend on the light to perform our activities necessary for survival. But even creatures who sleep in the night are not exempt from the gifts that dark has to offer. Check this out:

As evening approaches and the light in our environment dwindles, the hormone melatonin begins to rise and body temperature falls—both of which help us to become less alert and more likely to welcome sleep. With the help of morning light, melatonin levels are low, body temperature begins to rise, and other chemical shifts, such as an uptick in the activating hormone cortisol, occur to help us feel alert and ready for the day.³

The darkness establishes our own rhythm of sleeping and being awake. And sleeping itself is not a waste of time: when we sleep, our blood pressure drops, the blood supply to our muscles increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored, and hormones that are essential to growth and development are released (See note 4). What happens in the dark is truly amazing.

Life in the Light

We can see in the light, and yet somehow we miss the activity going on around us. The sun does more than give you a tan (which is terrible for you, by the way. Stop tanning!). The sun provides the energy that fuels the planet. For an example, let’s zero in on one particular process that you probably learned about in middle school: photosynthesis. This is the process by which water and carbon dioxide are converted into oxygen and glucose. What creatures like us need to breathe in is oxygen. What we breathe out is carbon dioxide. Plants kind of do the same thing, only opposite: they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. This process cannot occur without the solar energy from the sun (please note that this is an overly simplified description. Plants actually do take in oxygen as well, but mostly during the night when photosynthesis is not occurring. See note 5).  Below is a simplified diagram of the process:

 

One of the great mistakes we made in the Reynhout Garden this spring was choosing a spot that didn’t get enough sunlight. We chose the most convenient spot for us; the amount of hubris in the decision is incredible. This is an example of having to submit to our surroundings and understand that we do not have control over natural processes.

It’s all gorgeous, isn’t it? Like a perfectly composed symphony, each movement expressing something unique while fundamentally connected to its other parts to form a big, beautiful, complex whole.

And now, because everyone needs a ridiculous YouTube video to bring the point home, let’s go on a Neature Walk:

 

 

  1. Brown, William P. The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2010.
  2. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nightskies/natural.htm
  3. https://sleepfoundation.org/bedroom/see.php
  4. https://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/what-happens-when-you-sleep
  5. http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/sleeping-with-plants/

Genesis 1 and Our Sad, Sad Dirt

In the beginning of God creating the heavens and the earth,* the earth was confusion and emptiness. Darkness was upon the face of the depths and the breath of God was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:1-2

This past spring, Eric and I chose a spot in our backyard and broke ground for our garden. What we found was more than dirt: broken glass, garbage, and chunks of something black and rock-like. We had apparently picked a site that was once used for a coal dump (our home was built in 1911, when coal would have been the primary fuel for heat and cooking), and then at some point, a garbage dump. Our garden is a site of confusion. It also shows no signs of life beneath the surface; this soil is emptiness.

In Genesis 1 we find God hovering over the depths, dwelling in the darkness, the confusion, and the emptiness.  The very breath of God hung over it, giving it infinite potential and value.

Most of us know how Genesis 1 progresses: God creates and creates and creates in a way that only God can create and delights in what has been created at every step. What I sense in our backyard is a reversal.  Delight has been replaced by utility. Literal garbage has replaced what the soil needs to live as it was created to live.

But the soil is still here, in its confusion and emptiness, and God is still here, dwelling in this creation, sustaining this creation with her very breath.  In our backyard is the opportunity to remember that we are not meant to be parasites, sucking the life out of the earth and offering nothing in return. No, we are not made to be parasites; we are meant to be creators, delighters, kin to the earth.  There is a relationship of mutuality to enter into here.

Next week we will start to think about ways to shed our parasitic habits. I hope that in doing so, the scales would fall off of our eyes. I hope we begin to see together that the breath of God that was dwelling in the confusion and emptiness at the time of creation dwells here even now, in our manufactured confusion and emptiness. Are we willing to touch the hope with our bare hands? That’s the question.

I can’t wait to continue the discussion. Blessings, friends!

*This is a more literal rendering from the Hebrew. For more on Genesis 1 and why it does not imply an “ex nihilo,” absolute beginning of all created things, see William P. Brown’s The Seven Pillars of Creation. 

Brown, William P. The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2010.