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Life

Last year I began the New Year with a quote from Frederick Buechner so why break with tradition?  This one seems appropriate given some of the discussion that took place around my previous post.   It is from an entry called “Life” and comes from Wishful Thinking:

The temptation is always to reduce it to size. A bowl of cherries. A rat race. Amino acids. Even to call it a mystery smacks of reductionism. It is the mystery.  As far as anybody seems to know, the vast majority of things in the universe do not have whatever life is. Sticks, stones, stars, space—they simply are. A few things are and are somehow alive to it. They have broken through into Something, or Something has broken through into them. Even a jellyfish, a butternut squash. They’re in it with us. We’re all in it together or it in us. Life is it. Life is with.

After lecturing learnedly on miracles, a great theologian was asked to give a specific example of one. “There is only one miracle,” he answered. “It is life.”

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ken #

    Re: “Sticks, stones, stars, space—they simply are. A few things are and are somehow alive to it. They have broken through into Something, or Something has broken through into them.”

    Or maybe the sticks, stones, stars and space are more than they seem – maybe “they simply are” is a misunderstanding. Maybe they are also “Something.” Perhaps they do have “whatever life is.” That is the suggestion of some who hold an emergent view.

    Another emergent view is that all of us and everything else on the planet, or even in the universe, comprise a single organism – that perhaps we are part of something like volvox, that the earth is something like a volvox, or the universe is.

    Then, of course, the question becomes, is the volvox good, or bad? Do we matter to it? Or is it indifferent?

    An emergent world is not the world of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    December 31, 2009
    • “Or maybe the sticks, stones, stars and space are more than they seem – maybe “they simply are” is a misunderstanding. Maybe they are also “Something.” Perhaps they do have “whatever life is.” That is the suggestion of some who hold an emergent view.”

      What is the basis of this suggestion?

      January 1, 2010
      • Ken #

        I have seen nature writers say that if life emerged from inanimate matter and energy, then inanimate matter and energy must have in them whatever life is. It seems to make sense if life and the universe are emergent.

        In other cases, there is no basis given. In those cases, it is simply intuitive, I guess. Another example is seeing an emergent universe or earth or natural selection as good. I have not read anyone who provides a basis for that belief. Perhaps this belief is intuitive for some of us, or perhaps it is a determined optimism in the face of the unknown.

        Personally, while I think science has given us a basis for seeing emergence rather than creation by divinity in life and the universe, I don’t think it has given us a basis to evaluate whether emergence is something that is good or bad or neither. And for me, the idea that emergence is the whole story does not fit with my inner experience even while I think the argument for it has much power.

        I enjoy the idea that we are part of a great organic whole and are connected in history in an intimate way with all of the rest of life and, at the same time, the truth of my inner life experience is that we are connected with God. Perhaps the truth of the inner life experience of some who hold a pure emergent view is that “the sticks, stones, stars and space are more than they seem” and that they are good. Perhaps this too is kind of belief in divinity – it does not seem so far away from my own, even while I love the world of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their God.

        January 1, 2010
  2. I don’t know why… but I feel like reading ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ by Dr. Seuss 🙂
    ( totally random thought )

    January 1, 2010
    • Ken #

      I had not heard of this story until now. I looked at the description on Wikepedia and I can see what you mean.

      January 2, 2010
      • The original book and or/cartoon is worth seeing/reading. Brilliant 🙂
        The latest film with Jim Carrie, not so sure..haven’t seen it.

        January 3, 2010
  3. Paul Johnston #

    So I’m imagining a life salad of bing, montmorency and a few marachino’s for the kids, assorted rat parts and an amino acid vinagrette. Sounds like an accurate reduction of my little miracle.

    Thanks a bunch Buechner!

    Does Ace Ventura really play Horton!!! Cause you know what kind of sound he’s gonna have them bend over and make in order to be heard.

    Dobson, and The F on F crowd are gonna get pissy….again.

    Ken, I’m yanking on the back of your rope. Get out of there now!!! :)….

    On a more serious note, I think the inference of Buechners quote is an essential context for mankind, going forward. Let us marvel at the miracle of the gift of life, in us and around us. Let it become our treasure. What we value we protect.

    January 3, 2010
    • Ken #

      Paul, thank you. It is nice to be out for a while. Sometime soon I imagine I will go back in – there is so much my mind wants to understand – so, please, keep that rope tight.

      January 3, 2010
  4. Russell Berg #

    As a HS biology teacher the fascinating thing to me is that biologists don’t have a definition for life. They can describe it, categorize it, and study it but what is it that takes an assortment of carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins and in a wonderful mysterious moment makes the thing… live?

    January 3, 2010
    • Ken #

      I think some scientists believe the door has been closed to the creation of life and that is why we may never be able to say how it started.

      I wonder if you have ever read “The Great Chain of Life” by Joseph Wood Krutch. In it he set out to write about the “characteristics and activities” of life. To him, the most striking characteristic of life is its joy. When one thinks about this characteristic among all the others as he did, it is hard to believe that life and its species do not include in their origin something more than “carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins.”

      January 3, 2010

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