When our gods don’t illuminate all that is going on

Posted March 29th, 2013 in Blog, Featured 1 Comment »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Okay, I’m going to be a bit brave here and do some of my questioning out loud (do blogs speak out loud?), or on your screen here, about the holy week we are passing through (passing over?) once more. I write this, or ask these questions, under the spell of the waning full moon, the rare warm brilliant sunshine that is embracing this part of the world today, the wonder of life, the fear of losing all we love and cherish, and the gratitude I feel that I am alive to greet this day.

The stories are rich and have been part of the human narrative for thousands of years now – from the Garden of Eden, to the liberation from slavery in Egypt, to Abraham and the Promised Land, to the prophets pronouncing justice in history and God’s active presence in that history, to the birth of Jesus and his death on the cross, to the resurrection story added on generations later that affirm a rising of bodies one day into heaven somewhere but not here and certainly not within this universe.

Very human-centered stories, aren’t they? While there is plenty of praise over aspects of creation throughout that narrative – the psalms, the metaphors (justice flowing down like a river, etc.), the parting of waters and Jesus in the desert – even all that is pretty much at the service of the centerpiece of the story – human life, the fallen human, the struggling human, human aspirations and longing, the victory of the human over death, human liberation. Right?


Full moon setting at dawn, March 28

What about the rest of creation? What about that full moon that bathed our nights this week, and the warmth of our star washing over our frozen winter land and causing it to begin to yield, to melt, to open once again to the promise of spring and the renewal (not the resurrection from the dead because being quiet and frozen does not mean being dead) of life.

The human narrative we have written has this straight-line trajectory, forward from some beginning to a final end we cannot yet see, but is expressed as a final fulfillment of the human journey resting in God for all eternity.

Which is different from the story of creation, which is not straight-line, but renewal over and over again – birth, life, death, return, re-emergence – a cycle within which supernovas explode, new stars are formed, others blow to pieces or their warmth and light finally go out (as our star will do eventually), and this has been since the First Flaring Forth and will continue until one of two things happens – the universe implodes or it expands forever into a cold dark death. And then the other universes, of which ours may be only one bubble birthed in the Big Bang, will go roiling on.

Where does this human-centered-God story fit in? It certainly is not a grand enough notion of God to encompass all we know about the universe, right?


Sunrise, same time as moon set, March 28

If we need God to give our lives meaning, it best be a God as big as our predicament and wonder. It best be one that allows our imagination to shift us beyond our small human story and into the act of creation itself, which goes on and on and on – long before us and long after us.

It is terrifying really, this notion of meaning beyond and deeper than the human drama, this brief episode of the human species on this planet – a minute flicker in cosmological time. Shakes up a lot of foundations. I watch this world try to shore them up, and it’s just not working – kinda like Whidbey Island right now – nothing you can do but watch the cliffs, the earth, collapse under what you once thought was your solid home base.

How do humans respond under this kind of stress? Look at how the world responded to Copernicus (not so positive), or to Islam when it encroached on the Christian world (Crusades), or to the spiritual earth wisdom of women that challenged orthodoxy and hierarchy (burning at the stake). Look at the terror that gay marriage inspires in those who need desperately to hang on to a “traditional” notion of marriage in order to feel anchored in their world view, some certainty they can hold in place.

Now we are talking about dislocating the human from the center of the purpose and meaning of the universe. I mean, it would be just a wee bit grandiose to think all of this was just for us – this species that in any case is verging on ecological suicide.

Why doesn’t that alone make us want to offer to our children and their children a rich, vibrant, abundant planet in which they can go on wondering and being awestruck and adding their measure of discovery, joy and creative energy to the whole in which we exist?

I don’t mean to diminish the struggles that created the narratives and helped shape our human story – for good or ill, sometimes for much good. But when they are no longer adequate, do we honor them by holding onto them? Or can we honor our past by living into the newness of all we are discovering, making new stories that reflect the one story that holds us all?

Earth from Saturn - Cassini-Huygens mission - NASA

Earth from Saturn – Cassini-Huygens mission – NASA. Can you find us? We’re that little dot in the center along the edge of one of the rings.

I know this: I don’t want this light to go out quite yet. When I see what we are capable of – especially the incredible discoveries of the depth and complexity of this creation story, the deep time and space in which we exist, things like the Higgs boson, and discovery of exotic life forms in depths of the ocean we could never explore before, where we thought life could not exist, or that Mars once had water pure enough for us to drink – I mean, how do you stuff that into the small stories of human history, even when imbued with religious meaning?

Isn’t it the story that needs to be adjusted? And isn’t the discovery that we are all part of one interconnected web of existence, the story given to us by way of the amazing story of evolution on this one Blue Planet, enough for us to find meaning that connects us with the whole, meaning for our lives (and our deaths), a path to reach out more, to learn more, to gasp more – isn’t that enough motivation to stop shredding Gaia so that Gaia might continue to nurture our seeking for generations to come?

galileo earth moon flyby2 (sm)

Image: NASA Galileo. It’s so, so beautiful!

I can’t believe we are bent on so much destruction on this planet that we are jeopardizing beauty, mystery, wonder, awe, and the future of our species. We search for meaning in a time when we come to learn that we are just a flicker – but one that as far was we know has a capacity we have seen nowhere else (yet) in the universe. How is it possible that we will squander that because we were too afraid to give up our industrial way of life?

In this context, our fears of living without our “stuff,” our way of life, our “standard” (awful word for it) of living, seem beyond ridiculous. They appear appalling, and incredibly sad.

May your celebrations, may our spring, be blessed with the hope of abundance embedded in the ability of the human to change and to be transformed!


Moonset, sunrise pics: Margaret Swedish


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One Response

  1. D.Bheemeswar

    Recently I was going through some Indian literature, it says when ever humans with education shows greed and creed and employs all dubious methods, there raises a son of this soil lives by principles and brings back lost humanity which only can make one civilized. Again life continues for ever on this earth, with his creativity.People shall remember for ever that legendary person. People who are in power shall never listen for any good advise to have any meaningful settlement for peace harmony and serenity.