When bugs of various kinds appear in our house, it is my responsibility to see that they are escorted out, usually via a simple flush or smashed in a tissue and dropped in the trash can. It’s a good system and I see no reason for us to change it. I’m sorry, I don’t think we need the share our space with little crawly things. But I don’t often appreciate how amazing those little crawly things are.
One of the joys of my week in California was a series of conversations with my brother who lives in San Francisco. It began on a long walk over some of the fabled hills of the city and then into the night and over coffee the next morning. Peter is a very good brother and the conversation was good. Among the things Peter talked about was a book he had read, The Givenness of Things, by Marilynne Robinson. I had read Robinson’s Gilead trilogy, but none of her non-fiction. As Peter talked, I knew I wanted to read The Givenness of Things, so I loaded the Kindle version onto my iPad and it was my companion on the flight back to Philadelphia.
Mid-paragraph, the sentence almost stands alone. It startled me. “An insect is more complex than a star,” Robinson writes. I am neither a biologist nor an astrophysicist, but the simple truth of the statement seems self-evident.
In the particular essay, Robinson is concerned about the kind of materialistic reductionism that says the Milky Way is just one more galaxy, the sun an also-run star, and Earth one of, who knows, a million planets that might support life. It is the same reasoning that argues that humans are but one species of life – mostly a complex series of chemical reactions – deserving no more a privileged place than any other species, insects included. It is a materialism that will admit no spiritual realities, no divine intentions, no beauty.
And so Robinson writes, “We cannot know that conscious life has appeared only on earth, but we have good grounds for assuming that it is rare and extraordinary enough that its vanishing would be an incalculable impoverishment of the sum of things. An insect is more complex than a star…Stars burn out and the nature of the universe is more or less unaltered. But if we say that, for all we know to the contrary, there is just one minor planet in a limitless field of stars where apple trees blossom and where songs are sung, then most of us would probably grant an important centrality to that planet.”
Marilynne Robinson is wise. This place where apple trees blossom and songs are sung is important in the scheme of things.
The spirit of our age insists that all things can be reduced to the material – observed and tested and understood. It is an impoverished spirit, to be sure.
We’re in that time of year when apple trees blossom. Their beauty is no accident. And in our impoverished age when we mostly listen to synthesized recorded music, songs are still sung, and nowhere better than in our churches. LPC people will want to be in worship as we sing on Sunday – and as our children sing (here’s a preview – Jesus Loves the Little Children).
An insect is more complex than a star. Insects who find their way into our house still will be escorted out in the usual way. No apologies. But I will be mindful that those intruders are more complex than a star.
We’re in that time of year when apple trees blossom. And we church people are a people who still sing.
This weekend, enjoy the blossoms, and come to worship to sing and to hear the good news of the Gospel.
See you Sunday