Room to Grow | June 13, 2020
Inspired by Genesis 1: 6-8
“Some scientists think life first took hold in the rocks. But from day one, life was an escape artist, always wanting to break free to conquer new worlds. Even the great big oceans couldn’t contain it” (Ann Druyan, Cosmos).
Last week we witnessed the dawn of creation with the rising of our human awareness as God pushed back the darkness so that light might have space to make way for Life. This week, in the witness of God’s words and deeds during the second day of the creation story, we feel the pulling apart of the waters to give room for Life to move, breath and become. Like a mother preparing the nursery for the child still in her womb, God prepares a room for Life to be present, surrounded by all the resources that will one day sustain mammalian life.
It is easy to forget, or perhaps to never even learn, that this space between waters, prepared for mammalian life, came at a cost to all that existed before our arrival. A radical, evolutionary pattern triggered by what scientists know to be the “Oxygen Apocalypse.” The rise of conditions making mammalian life possible was disastrous for nearly all the other life on Earth. The entrance of oxygen into the story of creation was experienced not as a gift but as a poison that shifted, and almost destroyed, the entire planet. It took the planet a couple of hundred-million years to figure out how to manage the production and processing of this new element; an element that 2.2 billion years later has become essential for sustaining all life on Earth.
As residents of Colorado, most of us have had either personal or secondary experiences reminding us of the importance of oxygen in the ability to sustain our human lives. When I moved from upstate New York to Colorado in 1993, my father was so eager to expose me to the beauty of our new home state that he drove me to see the breathtaking scene at the top of Pikes Peak on my second day in the Mile-High City. Pikes Peak, as you probably know, is the highest summit of the southern Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, in North America. And, while there is less oxygen in Denver than there was in Binghamton, New York, there is even less oxygen at Pikes Peak than there is in the City of Denver. My body communicated this difference to me through twenty-four hours of a high fever, double ear infections, a sore throat and vomiting. Even my daughter, who was born in Denver, gets a migraine and vomits on her second or third night spent at a higher altitude. For many of us, it takes little more than a trip up the hill to regain perspective that our lives are dependent on a deeply interconnected ecosystem, creating room for us to breathe …to stay alive.
The invitation held in Genesis’ re-telling of the divine preparations taking place over the course of the second day points toward a corporate empathy for communities exiled by oppressive systems into environments causing faint, chronic breathlessness. It is a window toward understand and a moving beyond the awareness of, ‘I need oxygen,’ to an acceptance that we all need and deserve an environment in which we can move, breathe and become. This level of acceptance of our physical interdependency and our corporate fragility requires a commitment to socially locate ourselves in the roots of a creative story. It is a pulling apart and a settling into a creative story that has been so twisted and distorted from its original intent, that we struggle to understand that what this space that we speak of, is also the place in which we reside. This holy space, created in Genesis 1:6-8, is our home. This scientific story, through which all of life was lost in the creation of what we required to survive, is our place in history.
Last weekend, I received an email from my daughter’s school letting the parents know that there would be an opportunity for the students in her class to gather online to talk about the protests happening across the country in response to the devaluation of black lives through systems perpetuating the oppression of marginalized populations. That last part wasn’t in the email, but I wish it had been. What was actually in the email was far more predictable and politically correct; an assurance that this would in no way intended as a political discussion. This assurance was then followed by a promise that the facilitator would not offer opinions or engage in discussion regarding any elected officials, past or present but instead would fully rely on their qualifications as a scholar of history. I was fine with my daughter participating but I’ll be honest, the whole night before the online discussion I was on edge.
I am learning that any conversation that claims to be apolitical and strictly based on “history,” is problematic…and that, I believe, is an overly generous statement. I will not pull my daughter from the school or email the facilitator of the conversation, but I will share with you all, that I was right to be concerned. The pieces of the conversation I heard affirmed a deeper, unarticulated way of knowing that has been rising up in my soul; that there is, and continues to be, an extinction of safe space caused by a privileged positioning that there is an objective history from which we are somehow exempt from social placement and participation. In an effort to create a safe space above a traumatic, real-time narrative, white children are being taught how to hideout above the lives and experiences of brown and black children. Birthed into the myth of objectivity, children of privilege are following a map leading to a space safe only for a single story that is not even allowed to be their own. It is a space from which they learn that their engagement with systems of injustice must be contained into narrow towers, visible through tiny windows. From the security of this space, they can look down upon, and distance themselves from, their placement and purpose in a community that promises the resurrection of true belonging.
Safe space, defined as a space in which all beings have access to that which sustains life and to equal opportunities to participate in the protection and cultivation of that which sustains life, is only possible when a people have the courage and commitment to socially locate themselves in the story of a larger narrative. There is no objective historical narrative but there are many subjective ancestral stories flooded with truth that promise to clear new paths toward societal transformation. I am not interested, nor am I willing to invest, in a way of knowing that is owned and marketed by a textbook redacted and designed to provide the powerful with a confidence of a secured future. I am, however, passionately committed to embodying the story of a creative space swollen with Good News; a room with expansive boundaries in which death and life cycle in a cosmic evolution that can be contained by nothing other than the Light which overcomes Darkness.
This inherited room to breathe is gifted with a responsibility to move beyond our own constructed realities, yes, but it is also an innate declaration that we are fully socially located in, and bound by, this space. Objectivity is an illusion in which we claim to possess the power of a role that belongs only to the God of many names and one expression; Creator. “I can’t breathe,” is a symptom of a nonexistent objectivity that has removed us from the story of creation and deflated the space where all people, where all of creation, are placed as recipients of Good News. Far from a conduit for good news, objectivity suggests that we have the privilege to choose who is worthy of having a place in the room, who matters enough to access clean air, who is struggling so much that we might stop standing on the necks of those categorized as disposable to allow them to catch their breath…perhaps, this time, even a moment more to hear another story speak.
I am infuriated and impatient and terrified when I examine the number of spaces that have been filled with a poison so addictive, we barely notice that it is killing us. And, I long for a change that runs deeper than any political or economic decision could take us. I dream not of a singular political change within an established system, but a planetary evolution co-opted by a God who continues the work of pushing back darkness and preparing safe spaces where all sentient beings can move, breathe and become.
I hold this as the centerpiece of the vision for The Land. Its presence as preserved prairie in the midst of subdivisions and fracking sites is a symbol of our intention to reconnect ourselves with a promise deeper than progress or productivity. The process of being present with the weather as liturgy, the meadow lark as conversation partner and the antelope as congregant offer terrain for a somatic healing and communal transformation. It is a dedication to cultivating a healing community through which our life is able to do that which is was created for; to break free, to create new space, to let in an even brighter light.