Tending the divine spark in creation

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Dec 21, 2018

A friend of mine says that when she was a child she wondered why, if Christmas was Jesus' birthday, she got presents then. She didn't get presents on anyone else's birthday, after all.

After pondering this question for some time -- good Quaker child that she was -- she concluded that people gave Christmas presents to the Jesus inside each other. I love this story, and think it an example of innate theology, the inborn human gift of comprehending intuitively mysteries we can't grasp intellectually. Perhaps children are best at it because they haven't learned yet that such questions are beyond them.

The notion that there is a bit of God -- a divine spark, if you like -- inside each of us is expressed in many religious and philosophical traditions. This idea has also been resisted by religious authorities at various times and places, for it is dangerous to those who would reserve power to themselves. One example is the Catholic Church, which for centuries was hostile to anyone who claimed to have heard the voice of God or the saints, or to have experienced visions or miracles. Or, for that matter, anyone who expressed religious ideas different from those propounded by the Church.

It wasn't just a desire to keep the faithful from being led astray that motivated such suspicion: to a significant extent, it was the desire to keep power consolidated in the hands of the men who ruled the Church, and to keep the masses submissive.

In a sense, it seems to me that the idea that all human beings are "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights" expressed in our Declaration of Independence is an acknowledgment of this divine spark. Simply by virtue of our humanity, Thomas Jefferson was saying, we are entitled to fulfill our nature as creatures of a divine maker, whose stamp of divinity is in our very being.

But why stop at human beings? Why not allow a divine spark in dogs and cats, eagles and whales, butterflies and flowers and trees? Isn't our assumption that we alone carry the divine stamp self-serving arrogance? It is at least narrow-minded, a failure of empathy. It was not for nothing that author C. S. Lewis made the lion Aslan stand for Jesus in his Narnia books.

I have a hard time imagining a bit of God in a mosquito or a maggot, but surely that's my problem, not the insects'. And then there's the knotty issue of one creature of God eating another, which has been going on for millennia. And the even more difficult issue of God's creatures killing each other, not for survival, but for power or money or sport.

And that's the reason we don't allow ourselves to see divinity in a bear or an owl or a cow: it is convenient to us, and we have come to believe it necessary, to kill them. Or if not to kill them outright, to so disregard their lives and their habitat that they are forced to struggle for survival, and sometimes don't make it. They are forced out of their habitat into ours -- my brother, who lives in a small town outside Hartford, Conn., says bear sightings are common in his neighborhood and in the surrounding towns -- and then we claim that they are the problem.

We poison the streams and the oceans, pollute the air; we fill the planet up with our garbage, some of which is deadly to animals; we keep on developing the land in the name of human "progress." And some of them are pushed over the edge of extinction and disappear.

I don't think the Prince of Peace would want our willful blindness to continue. I am guilty, too, but I'm going to try to do better, in the small ways that are open to me: more conscientious recycling, consolidating trips in the car, eating less meat, avoiding plastic bags. Maybe that can be my gift to the Jesus in non-human life.

I wish you a warm, happy and peaceful Christmas.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Dec 21, 2018 15:54

And Merry Christmas to you Sarah! Reading this made me feel the Christmas spirit!

Posted by: Ananur Forma | Dec 21, 2018 10:42

I love what you wrote, here.

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