Last summer I went camping at a swell InterFaith retreat in the mountains of south central Pennsylvania. I sat by a first-rate swimming hole and watched a little boy, probably eight or ten, as he tried to build a dam across a stretch of Sideling Hill Creek. Every time he got the rocks to the point where they might hold back the water, something went amiss, and the current rushed through. The boy got frustrated. “Hold still, rocks!” he commanded. He re-arranged them, and, as if talking to a dog, said to the rocks, “Stay.”
The rocks didn’t stay. No matter how the boy exerted himself, his construction didn’t have the muscle to keep the water at bay. This baffled him. Why couldn’t he get it to work?
Little boys and girls have tackled such projects since time began, and that’s how we get the Hoover Dam. But truth be told, the rocks don’t stay. The Earth may seem to be at our mercy (and certainly many animal species are really bound to our collective whim), but in the end, things will fall apart. We are not going to win the battle of biology.
The other day, my daughter asked me, “What do you think will happen to the world?”
I said, “Eventually the Sun will start to cool, and it will expand, and as it does it will gobble up the inner planets and incinerate them.” (At least that’s what my high school astronomy teacher said back in the previous century.)
She said, “No, I don’t mean end game, I mean in the near future.”
In the near future I feel like we’re going to be as frustrated as the little boy in the mountain stream. All of our technology will not trump the growing population numbers, the consumption of fossil fuels, the triumphs of medicine that allow us to live longer. In the end, our best-laid plans will founder. We are not better, or stronger, or smarter, than Mother Earth.
This is only depressing if you seek to impose your will on the planet. Let me explain this in a microcosm.
It’s snowing like crazy as I write this, and outside the wild birds are huddled in the trees, staring at the windowsill where I scatter seed for them. I’m out of bird seed. The temptation is to run out in the storm and buy more, but I have to ask myself: How did they get along before I moved here? What did they eat before the human race moved into this slot called New Jersey? I guess many of them died over the harsh winter. I guess this is how it should be. In my efforts to bend them to my will, I have actually made life tougher for them.
When I think of the phrase, “Thy will be done,” I think not of the gods but of the Earth. We can’t make this planet as benign as we’d like it to be. The forces arrayed against us are numerous and various, everything from global warming to bird flu, everything from a hit-and-run to an allergic reaction to peanuts. We are not in charge. To pretend otherwise is to watch your rock dam get breached by the creek.
The moral of this sermon is simple enough. Walk humbly in this world. You and I are products of the Earth, this fickle Earth that will do as it will. Enjoy responsibly.
Anne Johnson is the author of the blog, “The Gods Are Bored,” as well as a few other paltry bits of prose here and there. The InterFaith campground referenced above is Four Quarters Farm, a Pagan-friendly family retreat near Cumberland, Maryland. http://www.4qf.org