The Place of Humans

Two weeks ago, I was high in the mountains of Switzerland. In the valleys below, flowers were blooming, trees were leafing out, and birds were singing — a glorious, gentle spring was in full swing. Life was easy. Where I was, though, all was bleak. Sheer walls of rock rose a thousand feet above me. Snow and ice covered the land and gusts of wind up to 50 mph knocked me off my feet. Ahead, I watched a small line of ski mountaineers, heads down, trudging into the storm. Puny human creatures, dwarfed and diminished by the wild, raw, fierce landscape around them.

I love being in such wild places in part because they help me remember how puny I am, how puny all human creatures are. Such places — mountains, wild forests, deserts, vast plains — are reminders that, despite all our obsessions, conceits, and capabilities, we are not the center of all existence. There is Much Bigger Existence all around us, though we are not aware of it most of the time.

What happens, I wonder, when we lose sight of this? When we forget where we fit in the world? When we forget about the other forms of Existence, Being, Beauty, Power that also inhabit the world? When we forget that we are puny?

Last week, we celebrated Earth Day at Church of the Woods. We sang. We restored a gravel bank with new soil and seedlings, we transplanted some day lilies into the sunlight. We mourned the myriad harms that we puny people manage to inflict upon this beautiful Earth that we are privileged to inhabit. We celebrated the gifts of light, of life, of love.

There is a paradox here, of course. As individual creatures of flesh and bone, we are puny, vulnerable, fragile. Together, we have enormous power — power to destroy so much of what seems to dwarf us. How do we handle this vast power? What are the responsibilities that come with such power? How do we put limits on our own capabilities? Where do we draw the line?

What would it mean for humans to willingly relinquish some of our power, to accept the mantle of puniness, in order that other forms of Existence — other forms of life and love — have room to live? Can we reign ourselves in voluntarily? Or must we wait till Much Bigger Existence reminds us, once again, that we remain, despite it all, puny?

 

— Steve Blackmer

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