God’s world has spent more time without
us than with us.
We are just the latest twig
on an ancient tree.
We have only just unfurled
our first green leaf.
Our existence depends utterly on the roots
hidden away somewhere far below
that stretch downward just as deep
as their helpmates in the sky —
the towering branches — stretch high.
Without the generosity of these
we would be snatched up by the slightest breeze —
yet of late we envision ourselves to be,
all on our own, an entire tree!
We forget that
God’s world has spent more time without us
than with us —
and that the world was glorifying God
those billions of years
without us, as surely as
it glorifies God with us now.
won’t you come with me
out into the yard where we can catch
a tantalizing hint of cosmos through
the tree limbs swaying high over our heads?
Come out here with me! Let us squint
at whatever scraps of constellations we can glimpse
behind the gauzy garb of light pollution
and as we consider the heavens, let’s also consider:
Are we the crowning glory of the cosmos
to whom the rest of Creation —
from black holes
to bacteria, angels to ants —
Or are we Creation’s littlest sibling —
doted on, but never idolized
by those elder beings who would gladly
take us by the hand
as we toddle through a world so grand
it sets our heads to spinning
if only we’d let them?
Listen. These lanky pines have got a secret
to whisper down to us. The dirt beneath our feet
has a message from the fossils packed below it
if only we’d take off our shoes
and let it soak in through our soles.
The lighting bugs and crickets trading gossip
would thrill to have us join the conversation!
Turns out, the creeping beetle, and the grass, and the whole
bustling kingdom of bacteria hard at work within your gut
all, all want to remind you how
God’s world has spent
more time without us than with us,
they are so glad
to have us
so we can join our unique voices to
the praise-song carried on since that first note
God started up Themself
going nigh on
14 billion years ago —
and that will play on
a billion eons hence,
even if we should be —
whether by extinction’s
hand, or evolution’s —
long since gone.
World without end, amen! Play on.
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About this poem:
I wrote this after prayerfully reading through Psalm 8, in which the speaker ponders humanity’s place, role, responsibility among the rest of Creation. Are we the crowning achievement? just one of many? Huge in our importance, or infinitesimally small? …Maybe a mix of all of the above?
“When I look upon the heavens, the workings of your fingers —Psalm 8:3-4, my translation
the moon and the stars that you set firm —
what is humankind that you pay them mind,
human beings, that you tend to them?”
The psalmist concludes that we are somewhere a little below “gods/angels/heavenly beings,” and on earth we are in charge of everything else (/ “have dominion,” a concept repeated from Genesis 1 and that many theologians have debated the meaning of…).
But what do I think? what do you think? — especially now that we have access to far more scientific information about “the heavens,” including its incredible size and age in comparison to our blue dot and the infancy of homo sapiens. …Throw in some existential dread about how long humanity will last, given our current trajectory, and the question grows even more complicated.
Robin Wall Kimmerer’s own exploration of this question in Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants has been of great help to me. She explains,
“In the Western tradition there is a recognized hierarchy of beings, with, of course, the human being on top—the pinnacle of evolution, the darling of Creation—and the plants at the bottom. But in Native ways of knowing, human people are often referred to as “the younger brothers of Creation.” We say that humans have the least experience with how to live and thus the most to learn—we must look to our teachers among the other species for guidance. Their wisdom is apparent in the way that they live. They teach us by example. They’ve been on the earth far longer than we have been, and have had time to figure things out.”Robin Wall Kimmerer
Psalm 8 welcomed me into the question, the age-old contemplation of the night sky and the existential awe it inspires; Kimmerer welcomed me into gentle answers.
In the grand scheme of things, we are very, very young. As such, maybe are doted upon! If we are decide to believe we are in any way “in charge” or set over other creatures, we must take great care with how we understand that, lest we fall into idolatry. Let us remember with the psalmist that even though we are beloved by our God, we ourselves are smaller than gods (Psalm 8:5).
Maybe human beings are special in many ways; but we are not gods. The God in whose image we are made delighted in Their cosmos long before we entered it; if we are to follow in Their footsteps, we must tend to Their Creation without possessiveness or domination.