Six thousand years!
That’s how old the Earth is according to what I was taught growing up. And as for how long it will still be around—well, that’s very much up for grabs. It’s all due to be destroyed when Jesus returns and he could arrive any day now!
It was never clear to me whether this short life story referred only to the Earth or to the entire universe, but based on the literal reading of Genesis and Revelation that I was taught, it seemed like the entire created order was involved in this carnage. It always seemed a little strange to me that God would create such a vast and magnificent Cosmos only to obliterate it all after a measly few years. I could never really shake the nagging sense that there had to be a bigger story than this.
The justification for this narrative was that everything that was made was only for the sake of human beings. The Earth had no purpose apart from being our temporary home while we learned to accept Jesus and be saved—or fail and be cursed. The creatures, plants, rocks, and weather on the Earth were all for human consumption and education. So, the story goes, when God decides that it’s time for the final reckoning, there really isn’t much use for the Earth—or the universe for that matter.
Of course, this narrative ignores much of the bible where the sacredness and eternal destiny of the Earth are taught. But leaving that aside for the moment, my experience of living with this story about Creation was significant. As I have mentioned before, it separated me from the Earth. It left me feeling like a visitor in my own home (I even had a t-shirt at one stage that said “I’m only visiting this planet”!). And, as I realised years later, it robbed me of an incredibly rich and life-giving relationship with Creation.
Our stories matter. And it matters—in painful ways—when we impose our stories on others, including our planet. It took me much longer than I would have liked, but I am grateful that I finally learned to release the narratives that I had been given. And I am grateful that I learned how to let Creation tell me its own story in its own way.
LISTENING TO NATURE
One thing that is easy to miss is that Creation’s story is our story! We are not separate from the Cosmos watching it, uninvolved, from a distance. We are born out of the Earth that we call home. We are made of dust—Earthdust that began millennia ago as Stardust. Our bodies are nourished by the Earth and its creatures (including plants), and when we die, will nourish the Earth and its creatures in turn. When we listen to the story that the Cosmos tells us these realities become much more than just ideas. They become the truth of our lives and they impact how we live.
So how do we listen to nature? There are so many ways, but let me share just a few that have worked for me:
- I try to slow down when I’m in nature. I make a point to watch and observe. To listen to the sounds. To smell the smells. When I eat, I am working on being more present and mindful of the tastes of my food.
- I have tried to align my life with the seasons where I live more intentionally. This has been an especially helpful practice for me this year, and I have found that the year feels like it has passed pleasingly slower for me.
- I find myself increasingly fascinated by documentaries, articles, books, and conversations about the Cosmos—its origins, its evolution, and how it all connects and works together. While this could be viewed as other people telling Nature’s story, I believe that those who do so respectfully and reverently do both Creation and those of us who listen a great service.
FINDING YOUR STORY IN CREATION’S STORY
As I have learned more of Creation’s story (and I still have so much more to learn) I have come to understand better my own story and that of my ancestors. I am more able to make sense of the events and experiences in my world—including the pandemic. I have a deeper sense of purpose flowing from the sense that I am part of something so much bigger than I. My life is placed into humbling perspective as I realise that, in the context of 14 billion years, my existence is a fraction of a second.
And I have discovered that I am less concerned about the meaning of my one little life, while simultaneously feeling more immersed in a deep sense of meaning than I ever have been before. My life doesn’t matter as in individual existence to which I must cling. I am no more or less important than any other creature or person. And I am no more or less important than any other creature or person! In my own small way, I am a participant in the evolutionary process of life, and I contribute to moving toward ever-greater connection, complexity, and compassion.
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