Fleas on the Back of Gaia: The Mystery of Meaning

It seems such an imperceptible existence of mere decades within the stream of billions of years that to inquire into our own value and meaning and possible purpose as humans seems utterly ridiculous. The psalmist was justified in crying out to the Most High, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” Though his answer that God has made humanity “a little lower than the angels” seems dubious at best. Yet so far as we homo sapiens know, we are the only creatures to peer into the past to read it as an intriguing, even compelling story, to give us, too, some clue to purpose in the present, and hope for the future.

“Oh, unsurpassed generosity of God the Father,” cried Giovanni Pico della Mirandola. “Oh, wondrous and unsurpassable felicity of man, to whom it is granted to have what he chooses, to be what he wills to be! … upon man, at the moment of his creation, God bestowed seeds pregnant with all possibilities, the germs of every form of life. Whichever of these man shall cultivate, the same will mature and bear fruit in him.”[1] And while this eloquent, young Renaissance orator may have vastly overstated the case, it is true, nevertheless, that humanity looks to its primordial past, to the origins of its unique life, in order to hopefully better comprehend its current worth and as-of-yet unrealized possibilities.

“Born for a brief instant, powerlessly carried along by the rapid flow of time and condemned by the latter to inevitable death, man possesses eternity in his consciousness and knowledge, for his gaze can hover over both the infinite past and the infinite future; it can know the eternal truths and the eternal foundation of life,” as 20th century Russian philosopher S. L. Frank opined.[2] And so when we are taught that the Supreme Being, the Most High God, created humanity in his own image, according to his likeness, we are inclined to believe we are incarnated semi-divinities, as it were, or demigods. Even the Lord Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, reminded the religious leaders of his day, “It is written in your own Law that God said, ‘You are gods.’”[3]

We share many affinities with other living creatures, especially those of the mammalian strain, such as hunting, gathering, eating, drinking, sleeping, procreating and such. The psalmist simply, but eloquently, declares of the animals, “They all wait for You to give them their food in due season. You give to them, they gather it up; You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good. You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire and return to their dust.”[4] Touché! We are the same … yet we deeply sense, even know, we are more. As scientist and theologian Alister McGrath points out:

Metabolism is essential to life. Yet that doesn’t mean we are only metabolic machines, as if that provided a total description of a human being. It simply and rightly recognizes that one aspect of our identity is our capacity to process food… Metabolism is not an end in itself. It is the means by which some of the most significant characteristic features of human beings can be resourced. It is the means to these ends, not an end in itself… Being able to metabolize allows human beings to do more interesting things, and it is those that arguably define what is distinct about us.”[5]

Perhaps, then, we are more than fleas on the back of Gaia, hungrily feeding off of her to sustain our very short, temporal existence, with fear of death, the termination of life, dogging our every step. Perhaps we were, after all, lovingly fashioned “in the beginning” by the God who is Love, with an exciting history that truly is story, with infinite value and specific purpose in the present, and realistic hope in the future … maybe even beyond our temporal future and on into eternity. And as aesthetic philosopher and ethicist Roger Scruton so adroitly points out:

You can situate human beings in the world of objects. In doing so you will in all probability reduce them to animals whose behavior is to be explained by some combination of evolutionary psychology and neuroscience. But then you will find yourself describing a world from which human action, intention, responsibility, freedom and emotion have been wiped away: it will be a world without a face.”[6]

Ah, but the world does have a face, perhaps many, and most significantly the face of God reflected in the face of humanity, which is more than merely an object, or highly evolved but soulless animal. No, the face of the human was first the image of an invaluable child forged, not in the dust of the earth nor at the end of long epochs of evolution, but in the heart of the God, who said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” And so it was, and so it is, contra Henry Vaughn, that we do have root and home, as well as history, heritage, value, meaning and purpose within this universe that is not, after all, Chaos but Cosmos. And upon this realization, upon this truth, rests all else distinctly and importantly human.


[1] Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, Oration on the Dignity of Man, 8

[2] S. L. Frank, The Meaning of Life, 53

[3] Gospel of John 10. 34, GNT

[4] Psalm 104. 27 – 29, NASB

[5] Alister McGrath, The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning, 21 (Emphasis Original)

[6] Roger Scruton, The Face of God, 49

References

Frank, Semen L. The Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

McGrath, Alister. The Great Mystery: Science, God and the Human Quest for Meaning. London: Hodder & Stoughton Ltd, 2018.

Mirandola, Giovanni Pico della. Oration on the Dignity of Man. Translated by A. Robert Caponigri. Washington D. C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 1956.

Scruton, Roger. The Face of God: The Gifford Lectures 2010. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2012.

Holding On to Sing My Song

Holding on for something clear, for someone near, dear to my heart

And in arms so strong, so safe, never wrong to sing my timid song

Along this crowded path, hearing shouted danger ever nearing now

Squeezing panicky people together under heavy weather of rainfall

Drenching each one in an uninvited monsoon to drown out my tune

Yet this melody keeps on flowing from my lips, blowing in the storm

Because you are here, too, where we can love and be so very free

To one day dance round the Tree of Life with no more need to flee

For the Victims of El Paso and Dayton

Monday Muses

Muse of Peace: Pen some song of serenity to sing over the world, and let the banner of love be unfurled in the hearts of people everywhere

Muse of Love: Yes, and let peace reign without shame everywhere sun and moon shine to pierce the darkness of bitterness, blessing earth like fine old wine

Muse of Wisdom: Open up the Book of Divinely Human knowledge to look once again to lessons learned, to begin again to live without sin against neighbor and friend

Muse of Beauty: Open up eyes of the soul to behold what is noble, lovely and true in this world ever-renewed, and bathe in simplicity without duplicity

Muse of Creativity: Mimic the Creator in creation of what is good and right and delicately appealing, what is understood and bright and genuinely healing

Muse of Labor: Yes, and labor to bring everlasting love down from heaven above in the spirit of reconciliation, cooperation and concord among humanity

Muse of Truth: And never forget or compromise what is truly true even when too few stand with you against the wave of anger, animosity and dangerous ferocity

Thus have these Muses spoken this day, especially in sadness and sympathy with prayers for the victims of two monstrous mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. And may the Spirit of Light and Life and Love comfort their grieving friends and family.

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No More Turning Away

There’ll be no more turning away from the weak and weary

I am here with all power from the higher regions of heaven

To leaven your life with light and life, love, truth and beauty

To fulfill my sacred duty to serve all people with no reserve

And I see your eyes and hear your cries before all love dies

And I know your pain with no gain in life or in immortality

And the seeming banality of your humdrum daily existence

As you persist in trying to find meaning with little resistance

And I’m here for you to do for you what you can’t do for me

To place my hands on your head to make a bed for serenity


Editor’s Note: Thank you to Pink Floyd for inspiring this poem with their song, “On the Turning Away.”

I Could Not Love You More

I could not love you more for the love with which you love me

And to be in your arms safe from harm is as precious as gold

And I’m bold in this cold dark world in which I’ve been hurled

With your banner of compassion now unfurled over even me

For me to be all that I’ve been meant to be within the sea of life

So I gratefully bow to you in humility with strength ever new

And I gladly kiss your feet by the coming ocean tides of change

In an ever-changing world that yet remains so much the same

Release of ‘On Being Human’

Not to sound too self-deprecating, the whole subject of what it means to be human may have been overly cumbersome for me (or for anyone, for that matter!), and in the end I think I simply bit off more than I could chew. But the work is finished and on the whole I am satisfied that at the very least, this may provide a good resource for those interested in answering the question. In particular, I am pleased with the two-part “Blood on the Rose,” as well as the section entitled, “Indicators Along the Way: In Search of Who We Are,” in which I deviate from a strictly academic path into something more literary, perhaps even poetic prose. Finally, my conclusion, though falling short of a complete answer, is satisfactory and, thus, I’m not at all prepared to revise it … not yet, anyway.

For those who have expressed some interest, On Being Human: A Multidiscipline Journey, is now available on Lulu.com. I anticipate it being available on Amazon within the next couple of weeks, yet I think you’ll get the better deal through Lulu. The price is set at $9.99, but I also included a 10% discount, knocking it down to $8.99, which is as low as Lulu would allow me to go. (Hey, they’ve gotta make some profit! LOL For myself, at least, I’m truly not interested in profit … besides, I’m scarred to death that it just might not be worth it to buyers!) The link to the right Lulu page is provided below. When my book becomes available on Amazon, I’ll let you know! And thank you to all of you who’ve been so encouraging and have expressed a desire to read this work. Blessings to you!

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http://www.lulu.com/shop/jonathan-noble/on-being-human/paperback/product-23927214.html