A view from the vast sea

Posted March 21st, 2014 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

This morning I stood for a precious few moments on the beach at Robert Moses State Park on Long Island. It was a homecoming of sorts to the Atlantic Ocean, the one I grew to love along the shores of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia in the 24 years that I lived in the DC area. The wind was roaring making for wonderful waves crashing on the beach. It was not too cold and the sun was glorious. It was still early morning so the sunlight glistened on the water.

I just tried in those precious moments to do some letting go, to give way to the immensity of creation, to stop thinking for a while about all that has gone wrong with our human presence here. But it was hard. I started to think about how the oceans are becoming saturated with CO2, how they have thus far been saving us from an even more rapid warming, and that one day soon they won’t be able to do that anymore. Quickly, I tried to let that thought go, because more waves were curling and crashing on the shore.

So I bowed down in gratitude.

CO2 Mauna Loa feb 2014And then I thought about how this ocean was once so abundant in fish and other sea life that you could hardly go out in it without swimming or boating among them and how big fish populations are down nearly 90% in many locations. And I thought of how the acidification of the ocean because of the overload of CO2 is killing off coral reefs in the tropics and destroying underwater ecosystems, and this sadness began to well up. I tried to tell myself again to just let it go, to take in the beauty, the sun and water and wind – but I could not separate myself from the grief. I was alone there, except for my host here who had stayed on the boardwalk. And I thought about the summer crowds and the abuse in store come summer because most people who come to the beach in summer think of it as a playground meant for humans to have parties and suntans and a really good time.

I bowed down in awe because awe is so hard to come by these days. I wanted to make up for the summer beachgoers who only appreciate the fun they get out of it and not what it means to the history of life that this water exists – the only thing that made this a liveable planet.

I bowed down to it in sorrow and with a prayer that humans might rediscover what it really means to be alive here, what it means that we ever came into existence with brains and hearts from out of the deep waters.

Neil de Grasse Tyson is being lambasted by religious fundamentalists for his Cosmos show, for presenting the Big Inflation as if it actually happened and evolution as if that actually occurred. Christian fundamentalists want to be able to respond to “balance” his unproven narrative with the Bible’s Genesis story.

And I thought, how puny their god, how uninteresting and boring their religion. Here before the proven wonder of the real story of creation and what the Great Unfolding has done to bring us to this moment, what it will continue to do perhaps forever and long after we’re gone, are people who need this little bitty god who keeps them from having to be unsettled by the revelations of our time – not brought to you by the Bible but by science and inquiry and curiosity and wonder and a passion to know what it really is that we are a part of (that last being a question that will never be resolved for us).

Eagle nebula - Hubble Space Telescope

Eagle nebula – Hubble Space Telescope

They don’t want to live in mystery, they want to live in certainty. They want simple answers to their questions and to their fears, and they are all right there in the Bible.

When you really put that book, full of wonderful stories and insights and poetry and awakenings, in its place within 13.8 billion years of unfolding, you realize how small is this one point of view. Historically, in human terms, it created cultures and empires and inspired many religious movements, some cruel and terrifying, some imbued with justice and dignity and the spark of the sacred within human history. But how can we reduce all that is to this one book?

God with a magic wand creating it all in 6 days – I don’t know, that’s not a very interesting god for me. But it does explain a belief system that sees all this unfolding as having no real significance or importance at all. Therefore, ecological catastrophe is of no consequence in terms of our salvation.

I guess this is one reaction to the discoveries of the immensity of space and time – some just want to recoil into a dark corner with their eyes, ears, and hearts closed down. It’s just too scary and disorienting. Suddenly the human is not the center of everything, just relative, impermanent, part of the mystery, emerging from it and disappearing into it – like all things, from galaxies and supernovas and solar systems to my mother and father. Suddenly a lot of “truth” is, well, relative, or simply doesn’t describe the world well at all.

I mean, we have been alive for the discovery of the Higgs Boson and for evidence of the afterglow of the Big Bang (Inflation). We have seen amazing things. Shouldn’t we be walking around with our feet a bit off the ground in gleeful joy and wonder that we have learned these things, rather than insisting that the universe still revolves around the Earth?

I didn’t think all this while I stood at the shore this morning, not with my mind. But writing it down just now, I know it was in me then and is now and will be tomorrow as I speak and work with a gathering of more than 100 people in Amityville to talk about tar sands and the oil economy and the human relationship within the planet and what is at stake and what it will take to move us through crisis to some new ways of life.

And so, while I wanted to let go into the beauty of the ocean, the ocean wanted to share its whole story. It called me into the whole of my relationship with it. Beauty, yes, incredible beauty. Sorrow, too, and grief. It raged this morning. It can do just so much to save us from ourselves. But our abuse of it is leaving wounds, grave wounds, and one day it won’t be able to do it anymore. And because we are part of it, because we evolved out of the water hundreds of millions of years ago, when its situation becomes grave, so will ours.

I bow down this day and honor the ocean.


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One Response

  1. richard pauli

    What an excellent, insightful post. We all face our own grief, now however, we share the tragedy universally – at roughly the same time, and for reasons of our own making. Double tragic.

    And so yes, denial of grief is the easiest, quickest reaction. Yet, like so many challenges, that just ensures greater grief later on. Or perhaps more effort put into denial.

    Ferociously interesting times, these are.