From Stardust | September 12, 2021 by Dr. Kathryn Benton
Every living thing, including man…
every living thing belongs to every other living thing.
I can never be what I ought to be
until the last living manifestation is what it ought to be…
for better or for worse,
tied into the idiom of everything that lives.
If I forget this, I profane God’s creation.
If I remember it I come to myself in you
and you come to yourself in me.
Many of you know that this is probably the quote I most often refer to from Dr. Howard Thurman. It was the topic of my doctoral dissertation, as well as many sermons I have delivered since then. It speaks to the reality that we all originated from the same stardust…the stardust that was present at the first flaring forth…the first elements of life. A very old song my grandfather used to play on the piano, symbolizes this stardust for me. Here it is performed by Fats Waller (my grandfather’s favorite musician):
It is this stardust that speaks to our common ancestry…our growing out of a common rootstock…a common source. I take this reality for granted as evidence-based information…part of our legacy…gifts from our ancestors, the stars, the bacteria, the mosses and mushrooms, the flowers and trees, the insects and the spiders, the squirrels, and the apes, but I was talking with a client the other day and they asked me what I thought about evolution. I had to proceed delicately with my answer, responding with another question, “What would it mean if evolution were true?”
I have had this discussion with others that I know. It is a topic that lies at the heart, I believe, of our current environmental/life crisis…it is the foundational set of beliefs that either allows us to feel, “tied into the idiom of everything that lives” or to feel separated, perhaps superior, but separated from other life forms…for we can also feel completely separate as Thurman points out:
There is something so private and personal about an act of thought
that the individual may very easily seem to be a private island
on a boundless human sea.
To experience one’s self is to enter into a solitary world
that is one’s unique possession and that can never be
completely and utterly shared.
This is a topic that Dr. Howard Thurman struggled with throughout his life and perhaps most significantly in the book, The Luminous Darkness. It is in that book that he delves into all the considerations imaginable associated with our need for integration…of our society, as well as our personalities. He wrote:
Always the sense of separateness that is an essential part of individual consciousness must be overcome even as it sustains and supports. This is the crucial paradox in the achievement of an integrated personality as well as of an integrated society.
Thurman’s consideration of segregation included this paradox…although we are one species…homo sapiens, we each have our unique experience…even down to a cultural and a unique personality that is deeply worthy of respect and love. It is this uniqueness of our experience that causes us to be attracted to others…they “complete us”…each person has the capacity to make us grow in compassion…and in love. We are able to overstep the boundaries of ourselves and “melt” into the reality of another individual. I am reminded of this love when I listen to this song by Mama Cass…
It is this experience that has the power to make us connect as a species…in our dreams, as well as in our waking life. It is this personal sense of being loved and cherished that can keep us going in life.
And as important as this sense of being loved by another human being is, there is more…we sense that Thurman also considered a deeply personal relationship with “every living thing”, including his dog, his tree, the stars, the ocean as necessary for this integration. This is the part that is often missing in our consideration of compassion and love…of respect, but remember what Thurman said, “I can never be what I ought to be until the last living manifestation is what it ought to be…” for we are tied into the idiom of everything that lives.”
Our responsibility sounds pretty clear. We must make way for all life to become what it ought to be. This means the forests and the rivers, the oceans and the lakes, the air and the soil…all the plants and animals, as well as our fellow human beings. It seems that this can only be accomplished through out coming to ourselves in each other…through a deep respect for the Earth and life upon her…for the stardust from which we have our birth. We, as a species, have been suffering from what Thomas Berry called a “Superiority Complex”. We are drunk with the power that we believe our brains have given us. We have become arrogant instead of humble and this is causing us great suffering today. We need to heed the teachings of Howard Thurman and so many others who warned that we have been fouling our own nest…we have been walling ourselves off from our birthright and our purpose. May we heed the words of Oren Lyons, Faith-keeper of the Onondaga Nation, speaking at a gathering of the United Nations. He said:
I do not see a delegation for the four-footed.
I see no seat for the eagles.
We forget and we consider ourselves superior,
but we are after all a mere part of the Creation.
And we must continue to understand where we are.
And we stand between the mountain and the ant,
somewhere and there only, as part and parcel of the Creation.
It is our responsibility, since we have been given the minds
to take care of these things.
May we cease to profane Creation and step up to our responsibility…step into our inheritance and let the light left over from the first flaring forth shine brightly…the light of understanding, of love and of justice for our Universe, for Earth and for the renewal and restoration of all God’s Creation.