Tag Archive | missing link

Mother’s Day 2016


UnknownMother Earth

I shall have to disappoint those who expect me to focus on Mother Earth when writing about Mother’s Day. Readers of this blog are aware of my commitment to Earth and my appreciation of our interconnectedness — even inter being — within creation. We know the harm that has resulted on our holy planet when she is unable to nurture life as a mother should. However, Mother Earth is not my focus here.

“Real” Mothers

Nor shall I highlight all physical and spiritual mothers — the ones who gave each of us flesh and blood, who experienced childbirth, who, in the best of circumstances, lived  and breathed for our benefit. These women gave us life and nurtured it, and I remember them with deep gratitude. (Mine was fittingly named “Grace”!) We couldn’t be here without them and their nourishment. But they, too, are not my primary topic here.


HelixNebula_WEBAs we approach Mother’s Day 2016, I choose to write about our celestial star mothers who, by their deaths, gave life to all creation: to galaxies of other stars, to the planets — including our own — and ultimately to every mother, of any species, who has ever existed on what we fondly term Mother Earth.

Writing about what happened in the depths of space and time when the first hydrogen clumps formed the first stars, Curt Stager writes: “When the megastars matured, senesced, and died, …  oxygen atoms blew off into space like pollen from bright, flaming flowers. 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 those cosmic fields. … We exist today only because our true celestial star mothers died long ago. ”  (Your Atomic Self: The Invisible Elements That Connect You to Everything Else in the Universe)

How awesome, if counterintuitive, to know that we – and everything on Earth — are actually composed of atoms that originated in generations of exploded stars. Everyone and everything “inherited” life from stardust (plus hydrogen and helium, the elements that predated stars). It’s challenging to believe that what looks like my solid body is really composed of atoms that are going “to, through, and from your body,” but it’s true. This can certainly be “downright mind-bending”! (ibid.)



Can it be more than mind-bending? Does accepting our place in our evolutionary story make a difference? Many answers exist to this question, but I shall use one that I remember from a  lecture I heard decades ago. That it stuck in my memory is tribute to how deeply it impressed me. I recently saw it referred to in a book by Daniel C. Maguire. Commenting on 1 John: 3:2 (“What we shall be has not yet been disclosed.”) Maguire writes: “Biblical scholar Gerd Theissen … suggests we call off the search for the ‘missing link’ between apes and true humanity. Says Theissen, we are that missing link.”  (Italics mine)

Hope for the Future

I find that perspective both insightful and pregnant with hope. Our so-often misguided, selfish, and destructive selves are not the pinnacle of creation. We have much to learn, much to transform, much to become. We each inevitably contribute to the future of creation, and it can be for the better.

Throughout Laudato Si’, Pope Francis intersperses words of hope. A few examples:  “… we know that things can change” (par. 13); “Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems.” (61); “An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door.” (112); “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.” (205)

Perhaps remembering our roots in the stars this Mother’s Day and our place in our cosmos’ ongoing story will strengthen us to continue striving to give birth to an authentic humanity. Happy, hope-filled Mother’s Day!

Who Are We (Becoming)?

Decades ago I heard a talk by Daniel C. Maguire that included a thought that deeply impressed me: that the missing link between apes and true humans is actually us! In Maguire’s Christianity Without God, I learned that this shape-shifting concept came from biblical scholar Gerd Theissen.

imagesI also like the title of an article by Walter J. Ong, SJ: “Where Are We Now?” Given all we’ve learned from physicists and cosmologists, we are not where, or who, we thought we were a century ago. The new context bumps us from our former self-understanding.

Our self-identity plays a key role not just in personal issues, but in the epochal transition of our time, as we leave one era and co-create the next one. Consider an insight found in Changing Images of Man (O.W. Markey and Willis W. Harman) that posits four levels of reality. Too often humans focus on identifying problems and how we deal with them. But this depends on what motivates us, which in turn results from our basic values and worldviews, the overarching stories that determine how we identify ourselves and others, including the divine and creation itself.

Willis and Markey use different sizes of wavy lines, but their insights work without them:

1. Substantive problems: What we see (e.g., poverty, pollution,
climate  change . . . .)

2. Process Problems: How we deal with these problems (e.g., deny, ignore, respond)

3. Normative Problems: What motivates us (e.g.,  acquiring wealth, concern for creation)

4. Conceptual Problems: What forms our values and motivations; What are our basic perceptions (e.g., our cosmic view, sense of identity, image of the divine, how these are interconnected)

The many creation stories of the major faith traditions (level 4) began when knowledge was intuitive: flat earth with a level above it, a level below it. No one questioned the true age of creation. Believers today must adjust their identities to the world as we now know it. Change challenges the mind and heart — but change we must, and the Mystery given many names is active within us to assist when/if we are open.

To start with perceptions of self: If our basic story convinces us that we are
– isolated from, and superior to, the rest of creation,
– on Earth temporarily to care only for humans, and
– here to earn a place in heaven above,
that percolates up into our values and decisions. As a result, we might not protect the  climate, air, water, soil, and other species upon which all life depends. We might  miss the new awareness that humans, divinity, and all creation form one distinct but interacting community that has evolved over billions of years. We might not appreciate that we are stardust webbed with the rest of known creation!

Berry3 for website Small wonder that Thomas Berry called for the reinvention of humanity at the species level! He famously said: The great work of our times is moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or mutually enhancing presence.

Might this describe “true humans”? How did Jesus contribute to this reinvention?

Willow Harth expresses this new identity poetically. Despite her title, this is definitely for each of us:

This poem is not meant for you

This poem is not for you
unless you too have been underground
choking on your life’s debris, and
playing peek-a-boo with death seriously

then the surprise of ten thousand buttercups buttercup_field
out of nowhere on every side where they’d
never been before on my daily walk
might have had the effect on you it did on me

because suddenly

I wanted to understand how these particular
flowers came to be — the whole evolutionary
history of mosses, ferns, and angiosperms,
the miracle of photosynthesis and DNA, not

to mention the longings of the Milky Way
to reflect itself in the form called flowers and
in these buttercups, which seemed like a
visitation from the sun, urging me to tell you, in
case like me you had forgotten

we are the universe’s latest way of blooming.