Greenspun: stories about nature and culture

The Universal Story

by Dr. Rachel York Bridgers, Assistant Editor

During the first Apollo mission to the moon, the astronauts on board turned the

camera toward the earth, and something profound happened. For the first time in

human history, we saw the earth from space, and all of humanity was witness to

the image of our beautiful blue planet framed by dark space.

The magical image not only captured the human imagination but gave people all

over the globe a new perspective of our shared humanity and place in the

cosmos. There was a new self-awareness that came from looking back and

seeing the whole earth, beautiful beyond our imagining. The astronauts later said

they thought they were going to the moon to see the moon, but in retrospect

seeing the earth from space was the real purpose of the mission.

Ever since the industrial revolution and the mass movement into urban centers,

people have felt separate from nature. Recognizing our connection with the

whole earth and the fragility of our beautiful blue planet – knowing it is our only

home in the vast darkness of space - is necessary for our very survival. After a

millennium of unchecked growth in science and technology, we are now seeing

that science alone cannot fill our needs. It has not created a coherent worldview

or shown us how to lead rich and fulfilling lives.

Humans used to gather around fires and learn together about the meaning of the

universe. Now we gather and watch the television. Science and technology have

usurped our natural tendencies to go outside and to connect with one another.

We buy things instead of creating them; we look for new gadgets instead of

learning traditional arts and crafts, and we go shopping rather than spend a day

outside with our loved ones.

Theologian and scholar Thomas Berry relates that human beings live by stories,

and we are at a place in history where we need a new story for how we are to

live, a narrative that includes us in the continuum of Earth's time and space. A

new story can remind us of the shared destiny we have with other life forms on

Earth, our collective humanity with one another. This shared experience, like the

image of the planet, can give us meaning beyond our devotion to individualism,

consumerism and the politics of the hour.

In this new millennium, we are just now beginning to see the planet again as a

whole. We can move into a new creative era shaped by renewal and respect for

nature and remember that humans are a part of the Earth's story, not the other

way around. Or we will continue with business as usual with detrimental


Thomas Berry and cosmologist Brian Swimme regard the Big Bang as a telling

of the Creation Story from the perspective of modern science (figuratively

portrayed in Genesis and other mythologies and narratives). This "creation

theology," the miracle of life and our ability to appreciate it through

consciousness reveal a spiritual dimension to the universe. Religion and science,

long at odds, come together in the modern era, compelled by our collective need

to move beyond the folly of separating ourselves from the natural world.

Our imagination is so rich and diverse because it reflects the beauty of the

Earth community. If we were to live on the moon, our imaginations would be

bland and stark like the moonscape. We are a reflection of our surroundings, and

the beauty of our planet should inspire awe and wonder and a spiritual


Transformative education scholar Edmund O'Sullivan believes that a "vision in

the twenty-first century must be accomplished within a planetary context." We are

at a crossroads in human history, moving out of the information age and into the

unknown. Perhaps, with climate change and ecological overshoot (the

culmination of all of our environmental problems), we will enter a dark age. Or

perhaps, as Berry has suggested humanity will be the consciousness of the

universe as we enter the Ecozoic Age. I like to believe in the latter, and like the

energizing image of our blue planet from space, we will all begin to see the world

anew and write a new story. Lest we forget: "the universe is a communion of

subjects, not a collection of objects."