A Master Teacher

Yesterday Jeb the Dog did what he does every day of the year – he took me for a walk around Minnehaha Creek. Whether blustery cold on a typical December day, rainy as usual in April or exquisitely perfect as it was yesterday Jeb is ecstatic because he knows how much I appreciate what he shares with me each day.

Four o’clock sun sent long shafts through cascading willows. A snapping turtle, big as a turkey platter, stubbornly refused Jeb’s excited and extended self-introduction. Delicate violets and pert bluebells have given way to substantial growth below an intensely green canopy. Frighteningly fast currents compensate with sounds seldom heard on the generally somnolent creek. Off-leash in violation of city ordinance, Jeb flashes a telling glance, “This is paradise!”

Science validates the primordial explosion of creative energy that got things going 13.7 billion years ago. Ten billion years later a second creative burst hatched life on Earth. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.  And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day. (Gen 1:12-13)

The truth of this story lies deeply planted in the air we breathe and our very bones. On the fourth day God created the sun and moon. Living creatures took to the air and swam in the sea on the fifth day. All the many creatures that move upon the ground – certainly the forebears of that stubborn snapping turtle – made their debut on the sixth day. Throughout, God remains quite pleased and affirmed that all is very, very good!

Yesterday it was as if Jeb were taking me to that precise hour on the sixth day – that majestic moment when God’s fecundity is awash and extravagant, that pregnant moment just before humankind appears on the scene. Science now documents this period — between the dawn of life on the third day and right before humanity’s dramatic debut later on the sixth day — lasting for about three billion years.

The Psalmist evokes praise for this cosmic time in recalling For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” (Psalm 90:4) We cannot help but wonder about the spiritual meaning and moral significance of this pristine epoch prior to humankind – a world drenched with vibrant diversity and teeming vitality! How are we to reverence this heritage which resides in our bones and saturates the air we breathe?

This is the place theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson takes us as well in Ask the Beasts: Darwin and the God of Love. Once we encounter the primordial community of life which is equally God’s creation we recognize that our disregard constitutes a grievous omission if not an unspeakable sin.  How can we remain blithely self-centered, ravenously ungrateful, wantonly destructive?

That snapping turtle, the verdant trees and a cascading creek have much to teach. I am eager for Jeb the Dog, my master teacher, to take me for another lesson. I have a lot to learn!


That incisive image of “unspeakable sin” is directly from Elizabeth Johnson whose book I am now reading and which I highly recommend to any who care to wade through a bit of academic theologizing to get to the spiritual nourishment which we all need.

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