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between-our-steps-09-12-18-doubleLast week, as I read the beginning of the Hebrew scripture, I experienced a dialogue between science and story that I would like to share.

Genesis begins with a description of chaos and power, "In the beginning when God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters." (NRSV)

This feels like the Big Bang to me. Matter and energy are chaotic, shapeless, completely dark. Then, an explosion sends everything flying like the strongest wind imaginable. Then, there is light.

"Then God said, 'Let there be light'; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness, Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." (NRSV, adapted)

The Big Bang Theory pictures this a bit differently with dark and light sharing the universe rather than following one after the other. Over time, the far-flung bits of matter and energy draw together into galaxies. More time, and the swirling masses coalesce into suns. Then, around these suns, planets form. Their gravity attracts moons.

Curiously, the ancient story has earth's firm surface take shape before the sun and moon. Waters find a place on the land. Plants begin to grow. I wonder how the ancients imagined light shining on the earth without a sun.

The vision of plant life is very orderly: from earth, plants spring up and each plant has to produce seed, and in the seed is the life of the plant, each type of seed with the life of the different plant in it.

When you open a seed, you can't see the plant or the tree. It looks like nothing. But with moisture and warmth, the shell splits, and the inner material sends out a root and a sprout.

One of the scientific laws is that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed, but they can be shifted, transformed, changed. We see these changes in nature all the time.

Crack an egg and we find a clear mucousy liquid and a yellow blob. Nothing that looks like a bird. But leave a fertilized egg whole, and something happens inside. The formless liquids take the shape of a bird. Soon the little heads peek out of the nest. Busy parents collect food to help them grow.

These transformations are so common that we come to take them for granted despite the mysterious transformation. We begin to think the pattern is unbreakable.

"God said, 'Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.' And it was so .... And God saw that it was good." (NRSV)

But human technology has created seedless grapes. I prefer seedless grapes, because I don't have to worry about where to discard the seeds. But they are not natural. Fruit is designed to carry the life of the plant within. According to Genesis, God planned it. According to science, evolution needed it. Fertilization brought diversity.

Roots and cuttings can also grow new plants, however, so seedless fruit are not a disaster. But some of our interference, intentional or unintentional does have dire consequences.

By-products of our life get into the water and the ground, and poison it. Poison gets into creatures and disrupts those natural mysterious processes. Science looks at the consequences and figures out what happened. We are told what needs to change, what we need to filter out of the water, what we need to keep out of the air.

Some of these changes are easy, but many take work. All of those recommendations matter to the maple tree and sunflower and milkweed. And because we are part of the ecosystem, all of these changes matter to us. We need to take the call to heal creation seriously.

Creatures live within their ecosystems. They move or die when the ecosystem changes too much. Humans have power to change the ecosystem, which is a huge responsibility. According to Genesis, we have to learn to use our power in a way that images God.

Cathy Hird lives near Walters Falls.


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