For me, a fast answer could be “Chicago.” A better truth requires the love story of my parents — and the love story of each of their parents, and the love story …. Stories within stories, all embedded in mystery!
Do you ever wish you had asked your grandparents more questions, or listened more carefully to the stories of their lives? Our own stories make little sense untethered from the stories of our parents and ancestors — all the way back.
Because so many people spend time and money tracing their ancestry, at least 100 genealogy sites exist. Seekers are proud to trace ancestors back centuries, usually the farther back the better. This image (from http://gcbias.org/ 2013/11/11) traces males in red and females in blue. I googled “How many ancestors can one trace?” but the genetic complications were too overwhelming to summarize here.
Still, we know we had to have a beginning. Shakespeare, through King Lear, assures us that Nothing can come of nothing; Julie Andrews, playing Maria in The Sound of Music, reminded us of that in her beloved song, “Something Good.”
In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson begins his Introduction with a splendid travelogue detailing our beginnings. The following excerpt follows his section on atoms:
But the fact that you have atoms and that they assemble in such a willing manner is only part of what got you here. To be here now, alive in the twenty-first century and smart enough to know it, you also had to be the beneficiary of an extraordinary string of biological good fortune.
After some information on species, he continues:
Not only have you been lucky enough to be attached since time immemorial to a favored evolutionary line, but you have also been extremely — make that miraculously — fortunate in your personal ancestry. Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so. Not one of your pertinent ancestors was squashed, devoured, starved, stranded, stuck fast, untimely wounded, or otherwise deflected from its life’s quest of delivering a tiny charge of genetic material to the right partner at the right moment in order to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result — eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly — in you.
But wait! There’s more! How amazing it is that planet Earth hosts life at all! One or more life-giving planets besides ours might eventually be discovered, but consider how rare it/they will be in this universe of billions of galaxies, each with billions of suns!
In our lifetimes, scientists have learned how, after our universe began, stars formed, died and exploded material that formed into new stars until one resulted in our galaxy, our solar system, our planet, us. Scientists recently detected light from the oldest space dust, galaxy A2744_YD4. (C.f. image at right.) It began its journey 13.2 billion years ago, when the universe was only 600 million years old!
Curt Stager, in Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe, gives us this poetic account:
To look into the night sky is to survey distant gardens in which the elements of life are ripening, and your body is a composite harvest from these cosmic fields. Throughout history, people have spoken of the earth as our mother and the sun as our father … In an atomic sense, however, it would be more accurate to think of the earth and the sun as our siblings, because they both formed from the same star debris as the elements of life within us. Earth is indeed a kind of surrogate mother to us in that our bodies are derived from it, but we exist today only because our true celestial star mothers died long ago.
If one has a pulse, this information results in wordless awe and reverence for the profound mystery of all being and the spirit within it.
No less a scientist than Albert Einstein wrote many profound things about this. Among them:
Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is indeed quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.
Einstein believed the following:
The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mystical. It is the power of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms—this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness.
One last quote, from Ilia Delio in a recent National Catholic Reporter’s Global Sisters Report:
Teilhard de Chardin … thought that we must reinvent ourselves religiously, and he set about his life’s work toward this goal. We have yet to realize, however, a new synthesis between science and religion, a type of religion that is at home in an unfinished universe.
I think co-creating that synthesis is at the heart of ecospirituality. One starts with “Where did I come from?” and continues the love story with “What does it mean to reinvent myself religiously?” No doubt the life, death, life motif so evident throughout the universe story and at this liturgical season provides an important clue.