There are those stories that are based on truth and facts. And for those stories the facts and truth are important. Then there are those stories that are about something more than facts and truth. For these stories, the story itself is the value and what is important. Here it is about how we relate to, understand and own the story that matters. There are those who have lined up the events of creation as told in Genesis with the events of evolution, and for some that’s really important, but I don’t think that’s the point. I think it’s interesting, but it doesn’t change how I relate the story. For example, I love the stories of Winnie the Pooh, but I don’t need Winnie the Pooh, or Christopher Robbin for that matter, to be real for me to enjoy, relate to, or share the story. Now I’m certainly not saying that Winnie the Pooh and the create narrative told in religious sacred texts are the same, but as a species we are a people of story. We live story. We tell story. We tell tall tales that make our experiences bigger than life, and we follow TV dramas that reflect and imitate a version of life. We use humor and pictures, we use imagination and truths, we use music and emotions. Each story eliciting a response, connect us to one another, and shapes our viewpoint.
The stories we tell about earth shape our viewpoint and our relationship to the earth too. Think about the very first story you heard about the earth. Maybe you were in church? Maybe you were in elementary school? Do you recall what the story was? Think about our ancient human ancestors. They had a very different relationship with the earth around them. Those first people to wonder what was on the other side of the body of water, the ones that got in a boat or a raft and went to find out. The ones that got in the boat, went to find out, AND come back to tell the story. Each time we humans ventured further out, we had more stories to tell and our viewpoint continued to evolve. As our viewpoint evolved, so did our understanding of earth and our understanding of God. I think of Copernicus, a Polish clergy, mathematician and astronomer, who first proposed that the earth revolved around the sun, instead of the other way around. His counterparts suspended judgment, basically dismissed his idea, because there was no visible evidence, no way to prove it, and at the time it was a hysterical idea. Their viewpoint, their stories and experiences, were not ready to entertain that idea. Galileo was the first to seek to prove that the Capernaum theory was correct. But just because it hadn’t been proven, and just because the majority of people dismissed it as ridiculous, didn’t mean that it wasn’t true. Our human experience, our human story, had not yet caught up with the wonder of the created earth yet. Each time we discover something new, we experience something new, our story changes, our world viewpoint changes, and how we situate ourselves in the story, in the world and in the cosmos of things changes too.
For parents of young children, many times at around two-years old, the child will begin to differentiate itself from its mother. This stage of “self-concept” allows the child to recognize themselves in a mirror, they begin to formulate a self-identity and self-confidence, it can also be a time when they may develop some separation anxiety. It isn’t that the child and the mother are truly one person prior to the age of two, though sometimes it may feel that way, it’s that the child hasn’t developed, hasn’t evolved to their own self-identity yet. Once they learn that they have this sense of independence, also a tricky stage of “no I’ll do it”, their story changes, their world view changes, and how they situate themselves in their world changes.
On February 14, 1990, the spacecraft, Voyager 1, was about 4 billion miles away from Earth. As the spacecraft left our planetary neighborhood for the fringes of the solar system, engineers turned it around for one last look at its home planet. In the image the Earth is a mere point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size. We knew we were a small planet circling the sun in one of countless solar systems in our galaxy. But this image changed how many people viewed the earth. It changed our stories, it changes our viewpoint and it changed how we situate ourselves in the cosmos. Astronomer and scientist, Carl Sagan reflected on this photograph in his book Pale Blue Dot:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
This dot reminds me of Horton Hears a Who, a picture book by Dr. Seuss. Horton is a kindly, gentle elephant who hears a small cry coming from a tiny speck of dust on a clover leaf, clearly it’s an entire world upon which the people of Whoville live. Horton’s mission in life becomes saving this tiny planet and it’s tiny people from the perils of his world. Everyone around him things he is crazy, but Horton believes in this tiny planet and it’s inhabitants because “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
We are both, created by God, from the dust of the earth, and we are a speck of dust floating in the cosmos. We are both uniquely formed and beloved, and inextricably linked to every person, creature, and creation in the world. Our world view is shaped by the biblical stories of creation and by the scientific discovery, when held together our place in the cosmos of things is brought into clarity. We are to care for the earth and all created beings, not only because we are instructed to (and I would say, created to) by God, but because we are inextricably linked to one another. Our survival, our ability to thrive, depends on the survival and ability to thrive of all created beings.
On March 19, 2018, the last male Northern White Rhinoceros died leaving only two female northern white rhinos remaining in the world. At 45 years old, he was elderly and his death was not a surprise, but it has promoted some unusual scientific efforts to develop new reproductive technology in hopes of saving the species. Thomas Hildebrandt, head of reproduction management at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin, said “This is a creature that didn’t fail in evolution, it’s in this situation because of us.” We failed the white rhino and we failed in our call from God. How we live in this world matters, not only for ourselves and those closest to us, but to those people and communities around the world and all the plants, fungi, and creatures in between.
When we reflect on this creation story and this image from space, I hope it changes our viewpoint. There is so much we don’t know about this world, there is so much we have yet to learn and understand about this mysterious and wondrous cosmos, so many stories we have yet to tell. Will we allow our world viewpoint to continue to evolve so that we might continue this vast exploration? Can we fully claim our call from God to be stewards and caretakers, not just for our own sake, but for the sake and survival of all of creation, known and unknown, because our planet’s our planet, not matter how small.