Last Friday evening, I drove out towards the edge of the marsh on High Marsh Road with my wife and my mother-in-law, just as the sun was setting. The sun set in the northwest and the twilight lingered on for an hour in varying shades of yellow, orange, blue and white. As the twilight diminished, we could see more and more stars, including the full display of the Milky Way stretching from south to north. Finally, the Northern Lights made their appearance just above the horizon in the north, and, for almost an hour we watched the light stretching up into the sky and shrinking back, shimmering and changing colour.
In our weekly chapel services, I currently offer a series of reflections on the seven days of creation as described in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. The text for this week – the second day of creation – simply and tersely describes the creation of the sky. In the old King James Version, this is the firmament: the sky, the dome that sits over the world in ancient cosmology. If the earth was understood to be like a plate, the sky was like a bowl turned over it. The poetry of creation, likely written by Israelites in exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C., speaks not only of the sky, but of air and atmosphere, and suggests meaning for those who live below it.
This scripture suggests that God is present in creation in all its forms. Canadians would be among the most religious people on the face of the earth if we grasp that God is present in changing weather patterns; certainly the sky is also a part of the wonder of God’s creation, one that should cause us to stop and be amazed.
As we read of the sky, a dome being put in place, we realize that there are limits being established. Our culture tends to react against limits. Whether in disregard for speed limits, consuming fossil fuels without bounds and demonstrate a willingness to plunge into the earth to take resources at whim seems to have no limits. While it is good to reach beyond ourselves and strive to be better, it is important to reflect that limits suggested by the creation story should be understood not simply personally, but also ecologically, culturally, environmentally and politically.
Ultimately, it has to do with understanding the limits that exist and being able to work within those limits to preserve what is most important. Now more than ever before, we need to stop as a culture and find the beauty and pleasure of living within nature’s limits, if not for personal enjoyment than for the sake of the fragile planet on which we live. We must limit our consumption to a rate that does not exceed nature’s ability to regenerate. We must participate in the cycles of nature, taking care to make sure that the things we throw back into the earth are fully integrated into the cycle of life. It is about making choices that respect the limits of the earth to keep it in sustainable balance.
Author and psychotherapist Thomas More suggests that the malady of our world is the loss of soul which reappears in addictions, obsessions, violence and the loss of meaning. As Carl Jung suggested earlier in the twentieth century, deep down every psychological problem is a religious problem, a lack of meaning and spiritual security. It has to do with the lack of respect for the limits that life itself imposes. Crossing these boundaries leads not only to the destruction of nature but of our souls. Curbing addictions, finding joy, celebrating presence and living for others move us to rejoice in the life we live within our boundaries, in which we respect the earth on which we live.
Our beliefs have consequences for the way we live. It is time to stop and look up and around, and see that what we believe can be shaped by the world in which we live, by the timeframe of our existence, and by the hopes that we wish for the earth to last beyond ourselves. Only if we are to learn to live within the limits of life and earth can we truly hope that others beyond us will enjoy a world without end.