--Feature Column: "Sustainable Soul w/Rebecca Hecking"--
Note to the reader: 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Last Friday was Endangered Species Day, and it seems appropriate to mark that occasion by reflecting on the man who helped us envision ourselves as one branch on the greater tree of all life.
"There is grandeur in this view of life...from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."-- Charles Darwin
Judging from these final words from Origin of Species, Darwin saw a glimpse of the spiritual implications of his theory. Darwin has given humanity a wonderful gift. Looking at ourselves through the lens of evolution, we no longer see ourselves as alien to this earth. We re-situate our 21st century civilized, advanced, techno-savvy selves as members of the Earth family. We remember who we are. We rediscover ourselves as Gaia’s prodigal children, embraced back into the fold. We come home. We come to see ourselves as the consciousness of the Earth, and embrace the responsibilities that come with that role. We grow up. We lose our overblown human ego, and we realize that we are fellow travelers through time and space with all life on earth.
We can begin to see humanity perhaps more clearly, as a precious and rare spark of Earth’s self-awareness. We embody the earth no less than mountains and seas embody the earth. We are of the Earth. For the brief moment of our existence here in this place, we literally are the Earth, suddenly and fleetingly self aware. Perhaps we are the prototype of Earth’s consciousness. Perhaps evolution, far in the future, will once again produce beings such as ourselves, though we can only hope they would be wiser and more grateful for the shining moment of their existence.
I am profoundly grateful to Darwin for giving us this humbling, yet deeply meaningful perspective on ourselves as a species, but we also must remember the other species with whom we share our home. Many are in danger of extinction, and many more have already passed into extinction at our hands. In embracing Darwin’s gift to us, we are also called to heal the damage we have caused by our collective arrogance.
Some years ago, I visited Darwin’s tomb. He is buried in Westminster Abbey in London England. His resting place lies not far from Sir Isaac Newton’s grave. The contrast between the two is striking. Newton’s tomb is elaborate, with statuary, gold leaf and long wordy tributes. Darwin’s tomb, on the other hand, is easily overlooked. He is buried beneath a simple slab in main floor, engraved only with his name and the dates of his birth and death. It seems fitting that his tomb should at once be far less presumptuous than many in that great cathedral and yet seamlessly integrated into it. It is a metaphor for his greatest gift to us. As a species, we may be humbled, but we are finally at home on this exquisite earth.
Rebecca Hecking writes on environmental spirituality from her home in northwest Pennsylvania, USA. She is thrilled to announce that her book proposal was accepted by Skinner House Books. Visit her blog at "http://www.thesustainablesoul.blogspot.com"