God makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
God waters the mountains from her upper chambers;
the earth is satisfied by the fruit of God's work. Psalm 104:5-13
When Reed was little he loved dinosaurs, so I knew way more about dinosaurs then I ever wanted to know. One his favorite places to go was to the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. The entrance to the exhibit explores the origins of life, the universe and everything. In order to get to the dinosaur bones you have to go on an evolutionary journey from the birth of life on the planet through the end of the Ice Age. One of the hands-on exhibits in this first section asks you to identify which of the following things were alive: a crystal, a river, a virus, and a human. The answer was the human. The crystal can grow, but it isn’t alive. A river is just water moving from one place to another. A virus cannot live if it is not inside of a host. The only one alive is the human.
So the first time we went there is led to the two of us having an interesting discussion of what life is. I asked him whether he thought the river was alive. He said yes of course it is. A river is bursting with life: fish, plants, frogs, bugs, birds, microscopic organisms. Isn’t it interesting how life is defines? The river is not alive because it does not have the characteristics of animals and plants. Yet animals and plants could not live if the river was not there as an ecosystem a river is surely alive. In fact it is teeming with life. On the lowest level, all sorts of tiny organisms feed, collect, and graze breaking down plant matter that grows on the stream bottom or falls from the overhanging vegetation. There are snails at work processing calcium in the water to build their shells, while salamanders sun themselves on nearby rocks. Trees and plants filter pollutants and sediments from run-off and provide shade for fish. Larger fish eat smaller ones and smaller predatory organisms parasitize larger fish. Birds, snakes, frogs, bears, and other land animals, including humans, all come to the river for food.
What does it mean to look at a river as if it is not alive? When a river is nonliving it becomes possible to treat it as a resource to be used rather than a precious gift we cherish, love and wonder about. This exhibit caused me to think about the importance of how and what we teach our children. I become concerned when the world around us becomes an object rather than a subject. When we separate the wonder we have in the natural world from the science we use to study the world. When a river is abused the life within it begins to disappear.
During our visit we also watched a movie about the search for life beyond the earth. We went to the show because he wanted to know if there was a proof of aliens. But we learned about a chaotic mass of gas and dust that becomes a galaxy full of stars and planets. Yet there watching that movie I again missed a sense of God in creation, in the search for life. It all happened so scientifically. And while I don’t dispute evolution, I am troubled when we separate the world into discrete parts. Science is for our jobs and school; while God is for Sunday mornings. Yet life is an interconnected web where creation cannot be separated from the creator who embodies all of creation. My favorite part of the creation story is that it begins – “In the beginning when God began creating, 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” (Genesis 1:1-2). God took the mess of chaos and to the chaos began to create an order. For me the important point in this whole poetry of creation is that God began crating. The wonder of all we see and experience in the world is a creation of God.
So the next time you are learning about the science of the planet remember to ask about the aliveness of the earth and wonder about the God who began creating. My hope is that we can teach children as Rachel Carson said, “It is a wholesome and necessary thing for us to turn again to the earth and in the contemplation of her beauties to know the sense of wonder and humility.”
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
All your waves and breakers have swept over me.
By day the Holy One directs his love,
At night her song is with me (Psalm 42:7-8).