Each month the Society of the Holy Child (SHCJ), of which I am a member, posts a short (under 4 minutes) video meditation. This month’s connects the journey of the scholars to Bethlehem (celebrated in Western Christianity on January 6th) to the pilgrimage of refugees seeking shelter and to our own journeys this year. No matter how we interpret the original story and its participants, they give us a model for making our own pilgrimage this year, our own contribution within and to the Universe Story:
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.
If ever we needed reminders of the fact of the interconnection among all existence, as affirmed by cosmology, quantum physics, and other sciences — as well as mystics and saints — it is now, when dualistic thinking is causing havoc. Whole groups are being vilified and artificially separated from the rest: “winners” from “losers”; “good guys” from whoever the judging group happens to be; humans from Earth, our common home with which we share existence. Lent offers a good opportunity to “re-pent” — re-think — these rifts.
Everything has come from elements resulting from generations of exploding stars. Our Solar System and everything in it developed from a shimmering cloud of stardust elements like calcium, carbon, and hydrogen resulting from a supernova explosion. Thus we, too, are made of stardust elements. On Ash Wednesday, Christians traditionally receive a cross of ashes on their foreheads to remind them that they are dust. The following ritual is meant to enrich this realization by reminding us that, even before we are dust, we are stardust! (For a two-sided pdf copy, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Needed: one candle and a dish of dirt (or glitter, representing stardust). Decide who will read.
Leader: To begin, let us pause to recall past times when we have received ashes on our foreheads and heard words like these: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Remember how that influenced your practices during Lent.
Pause to Reflect.
Carry those thoughts and graces with you now, but place them in a larger context: the context of the entire universe and its amazing 13.8 billion-year history. After billions of years, thanks to the divine Mystery living and acting in our world and in us, stars formed and died in the process of bringing Earth to existence. We became part of this blessed creation. We are connected to all life; we have a role in this sacred story!
Reader One: The massive star that was mother to our Sun met with fiery death, her form completely annihilated by the explosive force of the blast. And yet she exists in each of us, in the cells of our bodies that are composed of her dust. Consciously or not, we carry her within us as surely as we carry the DNA of our biological parents. (Radical Amazement, Judy Cannato)
Reader Two: Our planet Earth was once a dancing star, evolving over four and a half billion years ago from the many elements of [an exploding] supernova. I have loved knowing that we are “made of stardust” . . . I like knowing that the composition of my body has the elements of a star that was once brilliantly aglow in the universe and is now dancing in me. There’s a magical sense of connection that comes from this knowledge . . . . (The Cosmic Dance, Joyce Rupp)
Reader Three: Dust particles are suspended in the air at all times, unnoticed until sunlight bathes them in radiant streaming light. In this warmth, the specs sparkle. No one who cares about shiny furniture is unaware of what dust can accomplish, just by being. Nothing is insignificant in our universe!
Litany of gratitude:
• for the Spirit present within the creative process of creation and within each of us, We are grateful.
• for the generations of supernovas that exploded, resulting in stars with increasingly more of the heavy elements, eventually leading to the supernova that resulted in our solar system and galaxy, We are grateful.
• for Sister Dirt, because of whom we can enjoy food, flowers, plants, clean air, shade, and revelations of the divine, We are grateful.
• for farmers who till the soil, especially our local farmers who do it organically using fair trade practices, We are grateful.
• for those who lobby to prevent mono-cropping, toxic fertilizers, and the use of GMO’s that endanger the earth, We are grateful.
• for the scientists, theologians, thinkers, writers, speakers and artists who have helped us realize our place in creation — [Pause to quietly remember one or two who have helped you. Name them if you wish], We are grateful.
• for those present and throughout the world committed to creating a flourishing Earth, including Pope Francis, and for his encyclical Laudato Si’, We are grateful.
Jesus, too, was stardust! Jesus, too, died to give new life, as each seed must do. How might we connect the creation story with our Lent experiences this year? How might our Lent resolutions reflect our call to care for E/earth?
Blessing of soil (or glitter):
May this soil (or glitter), which dates back billions of years and which took over 4 billion years to form on Earth, keep us humble — humus is the Latin for soil. May it remind us of who we are and how vitally we interconnect with the rest of creation. May we trust in divine power working in us for the good of all creation. Amen.
Individual blessings, using soil (or glitter):
Depending on the number of participants, either divide into pairs, each member blessing the other with soil from the center bowl, or form a circle and pass the bowl of soil, each blessing the person on his or her right.
Thank you, (name), for bringing your starlight into my life. I bless you and the star-stuff you invest in caring for all of creation. (Add anything you may wish to say at the beginning of our Lenten Journey.)