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2019-05-10

Rare, Precious Fluke

Practice of the Week
Rare, Precious Fluke

Category: Ecospiritual. These practices are oriented toward developing our spirituality through our connection with our planet home and our responsibility to care for it.


We’ve learned that we humans are quite small in relation to the big world. We are unimaginably tiny compared to the universe, and are but new arrivals in the history of life on Earth. Still, all Earth’s creatures are precious.

Of all the species that have ever lived, 99.9 percent are extinct. They evolved into being, lived for a time, and are now gone. Recent extinctions have often been caused by human activity, and this is a tragedy that deserves our attention to prevent more losses. But there have been extinctions – even mass extinctions – before there were any primates, let alone humans.

There have been five mass extinctions:
  • 444 million years ago (mya),
  • 375 mya,
  • 251 mya,
  • 200 mya, and, most recently,
  • 66 mya, when the dinosaurs were wiped out.
In each of these, the Earth lost at least 75% of her species. The most devastating, the Permian extinction 251 mya, claimed 96% of all species. The survivors repopulated the Earth, their descendants branching into new and different lifeforms.

That evolution produced primates is a huge fluke. It’s even more improbable that one of them would be an ape about five or six feet tall with armpits, musical instruments, bad jokes, and all the rest that makes us the species we are. We’ve produced written language, painted masterpieces, solved quadratic equations, and built skyscrapers, Kew gardens, and the internet. We ask ourselves the deep questions of philosophy and religion and wrestle with alternative answers. We’ve ventured into space and looked back at our home in awe.

Tiny newcomers on the cosmic stage though we be, we are rare and precious—a gem indeed. We are offspring, parents, siblings, lovers and friends. We have the capacity to feel compassion for each other, and the creatures who share our planet. We are capable of acts of tremendous kindness and deep abiding love.

Yet every species is unique. All species emerged from the tangled thicket of evolutionary history going back to the beginnings of life. They too are rare and precious gems.

Practices

1. Honoring Your Uniqueness. Clear your altar of any previously used items. You are a singular being, unlike anyone else on Earth, now or in the past. Your experiences, perceptions, life story, and genetics are unique. (Even if you have an identical twin, your life experiences are yours alone.) Express this uniqueness on your altar. Put up some photos of your ancestors to represent your genetic legacy, and some items that symbolize your life story and experiences. This is a creative snapshot of the person you are right now. How might your altar have been different had you created it five years ago? Ten years ago?

2. Observe Endangered Species Day. Sadly, many animals are on the path to extinction due to human activity. Since 2006, environmental groups around the world have commemorated endangered species with a special day, to bring attention to the issue. In the United States, the third Friday of May is Endangered Species Day. Think about ways to mark the day in a meaningful way. Consider participating in a local event, or writing a letter to the editor of your local paper to raise awareness. Learn about some endangered species in your bioregion. Discover how you might help them survive and adapt to a changing world.

3. Many Paths and Possibilities. Just as evolution could have taken many other paths than the one it did, our lives also could have turned out very differently. In your journal, reflect on the roads not taken in your life. Don’t dwell on what might have been “better.” Simply acknowledge the many possibilities. Next, consider the many paths open to you at this stage of your life. Of the infinite possibilities, only one path has unfolded and only one will unfold. So it is with the evolving Earth.

Group Activities

Memorial for an Extinct Species. Gather your group, and plan a memorial to extinct species. It can be dedicated to one specific species, or all animals made extinct by human actions. It can be as simple or elaborate, temporary or permanent as your group wishes it to be. Outdoor memorials, or those associated with a park or nature preserve, are particularly appropriate. One example includes a gift of several birdhouses made by group members for endangered birds on a nature trail. Or the group might plant some native wildflowers. You may choose to mark the gift with an explanatory plaque, or leave it unadorned. If you prefer not to create a permanent memorial, consider hosting an event for Endangered Species Day and incorporating a tribute to extinct species as part of the event.

Questions for Group Conversation:

  • Not only are we rare and precious, but so are the other creatures that share the Earth with us. What obligation, if any, do we have to the other living beings on our planet?
  • How can we balance human needs with the needs of other species who also call the Earth home?
  • Imagine a world where more than one hominid species survived to the present day. What might that world be like? What challenges would people face while sharing the world with our very close cousins? How would we define human? (Is it important to define humanity?)
  • What are some positive traits of the human species? Negative ones? How can we balance the two?

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