It was a lovely autumn day. I sat on the front porch swing and watched as squirrels continued their collection of items to store for winter. Birds from farther North arrived in the South, nesting in shrubs and on trees, or resting on the telephone wires overhead. Occasionally, a breeze stirred up the fallen leaves, which danced across the yard. In the midst of the tranquility of the autumn afternoon, I was also mindful of different mental images which seemed incongruous in my placid setting. There were many terrible news headlines I was following: continued trouble in the Ukraine, innocent people slaughtered by the Islamic State, youth shot down in the streets of the US, and so much terror and violence around the world. The harsh realities of life seem so distant from my idyllic afternoon sitting on the porch swing yet I knew they marked the day to day reality of people in other places.
As my reflections shifted from the tranquility of the moment and the violence in the world, a question emerged. It was not a well formed question, but a series of inquisitive thoughts that were interconnected and jumbled together in my mind. What is the purpose of life? Is there a purpose in life? How is it that we are to live? In the midst of violence and chaos, what sense do we make of life? What is it that we are missing? How do we escape the cycles of violence which mar human existence?
My mind drifted to other places I’ve lived and how much I’ve enjoyed just sitting outside. In Atlanta, it’s the porch swing. I smiled as I remembered the porch swing at my childhood home in Pennsylvania. In Miami Beach, it was a balcony overlooking the water of Biscayne Bay. In Tucson, there was front porch bench looking onto a desert landscape. I’m very fond of sitting outside, being quiet, and reflecting on life – just from my own front porch.
From each place I sat, I could see trees. There were pine trees, willows, cacti, mangroves, palm trees, maples, cherry trees, and so many others. What does it mean to be a tree? There are so many varieties and different types of trees. How could “treeness” be limited to just one variety?
A sparrow perches itself on the porch railing near where I sit. Today there are cardinals and blue jays in the yard. I think of the birds I’ve watched from my various porches: the robins, crows, buzzards, hawks, egrets, and pelicans. How is it that nature has given us so many different kinds of birds? They are so different, one from another. What would it be like if all the birds were exactly alike?
My mind wanders even further. In our galaxy, it’s estimated that there are between 200 billion and 400 billion stars. The number of galaxies in the universe, yes, those are also numbered in the hundreds of billions. As mind-blowing as those numbers truly are, I can’t begin to fathom the theoretical possibility that even with all those stars and galaxies, there could also exist other universes somewhere out there in dimensions I cannot comprehend.. Even the stars and galaxies are very diverse, one from another.
As I sit on the porch swing, I am struck once again at how incredibly diverse our environment, our world, our solar system, our universe actually is. The constant theme that runs through everything that exists is diversity. That’s even true within our bodies, composed of many organs, systems, cells, and billions and billions of microorganisms growing inside.
For whatever reason, humanity has succeeded in disconnecting itself from living in appreciation of this fundamental diversity of the universe. Diversity is the way things were meant to be. Yet, we try to make everything the same: one true religion, one correct political system, one “best” economic system, one superior race of people, and one way of doing, saying, dressing, or behaving. From large systems to particular behaviors, humans have the tendency to try to limit diversity and have one right way.
As part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, I find myself quite uncomfortable with this human tendency to claim that one way or one thing is the right one making other others somehow less valuable or even defective. I believe that all creation is a reflection of the Divine. God created the cosmos as an expression of self. All aspects of the cosmos fundamentally are good. That means that when we fail to live with reference for the diverse ways creation presents itself to us, we fail to reference the goodness of God expressed in creation. Perhaps more importantly, there is something about the essence of Divinity that could only be expressed through incomprehensible diversity.
In this context, it’s deeply ironic that religion is used to justify war and the taking of human life. While all the great religious traditions of human history contain some form of the Golden Rule, to do unto others as you would have them do to you, out of greed and lust for power, people throughout history have used religion to justify the malicious intent they unleash on others. In doing so, they not only violate the religion they espouse but ignore the deep and obvious reality of the natural order of things: the fundamental principle of diversity in the cosmos.
In sitting on my porch swing, a small insight becomes quite clear to me as very important. The sparrow doesn’t act as though it’s better than the starling. Both the squirrels and the chipmunks know their role in gathering for the winter. In the diversity found in my own yard, there is a kind of harmony and order. That is the way we humans are to live: in harmony with the order established in creation, a harmony of orchestrated diversity where the many parts are woven together to form the great symphony of life. If we could only learn the lessons life presents us by just taking a moment to sit and rest in our own yards.
© 2014, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.