“And God said unto them: be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”
This command from God to man and woman happens in 1:28, just three short verses after God has made everything else. In Gene 1:26, the Bible states that God said, “Let us make a man–someone like ourselves, to be the master of all life upon the earth and in the skies and in the seas.”
“Let us make a man,” God said. Let us. Who?
God and who? God and all the other creatures? “Someone like ourselves,” he says to his creation. Someone like us, someone who was like them. Then, in the next chapter, God makes a man from dust, from earth. He didn’t make a man from himself, but in the image of his creation.
One of my favorite of the early Christian writings is the Gospel of Thomas, which wasn’t included in the edited version of the official Bible. In the Gospel of Thomas, Thomas reports that Jesus clearly (well, clearly for Jesus) instructed the disciples on how to understand what they truly were. Jesus said,
“If those who lead you say, ‘See, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the Kingdom is inside of you, and it is outside of you. When you come to know yourselves, then you will become known, and you will realize that it is you who are the sons of the living Father.” [emphasis added]
When I take these two verses together, what I’m left with is the feeling get when 1) I look at the ocean and 2) when I’m in the Everglades. When I’m in church, I feel like I’m in church; by that I mean that I feel like I’m in a building full of people in organized worship. I don’t mind it; in Wilmington, I had many great experiences and moments of piercing understanding in church services. But, on some level, I still feel like I’m in something man made. I don’t necessarily feel like a part of creation, but of something that has been manufactured.
But the Everglades? To me, it is so lush and abundant and ridiculously perfect in its organization, both micro and macro ecologically, that I sense on the level of knowing that surpasses science that I belong to it. That whatever I really am is inside of me (made from the dirt) and outside of me (God’s creation), and when I fully apprehend the knowledge that I am made in the image of creation (in the likeness of God and his creation, as God says, “like ourselves”), then I will be known. I suspect here that what it means to “be known” is that creation will acknowledge that I get it, and I will simultaneously comprehend my true nature, the one that God intended, the pure part of me that is responsible enough to subdue nature and my dominion of it. At that point, I will finally fit in, and my ego will be lost. I will be true.
Even as I sit here on my bed while Buckley sleeps and farts quietly like coonhounds do and Michael flips between “Storage Wars” and “The Bigfoot Definitive on the History Channel,” I know I am struggling for understanding. That verse I quoted from Genesis is the one that people have misapplied in order to get what they want from nature or to pursue their own selfish ends–even when those selfish ends did result in certain positive outcomes such as roads and commerce, buildings, banks, and the romantic tales of human history. The longer I live, the more futility I see in the choice of hostility, and what I know of humans…”dominion” and “subdue” are invisibly (and sometimes openly) motivated by hostility.
Today, through a course of events involving Dwight’s mother-in-law finally being released from the hospital and him being unable to lead a full day Everglades tour, I took out my first group. They didn’t know they were my first group, but I did tell a few of them about this blog, so I’ll be delighted to know if they’re reading it right now and realizing that I had never led a tour into the Glades until today. I’m just thrilled I didn’t take a wrong turn.
I had a great group today–a family from Michigan (hi, Brian and Tracy!), a family from Germany, and a family from Pennsylvania. We saw so many wonderful things today including a mongo 10-foot alligator on the banks of the Turner River and a ton of wading birds hunting their lunches–we did see an anhinga and a great American egret snatch up some fish–and we also saw a trio of biggun gators I’d never seen before.
In Florida, many people decided that feeding the gators was cute and fun, and, I think, a very misguided attempt to get back to that thing in us that wants to connect to our natural world–that sense of “being known,” as Jesus pointed out to Thomas. I really do believe that every person has a deep desire to be connected to nature although I also believe that the desire manifests in sometimes very, very stupid behavior. One of those stupid behaviors is feeding an alligator.
Because when you feed an alligator, you teach that creature that humans provide food. That means that when Edwina from Arkansas tosses a piece of fried chicken at the trio of mongo gators on the banks of the Turner River, she’s setting up Roger from New Jersey to get his leg bitten when he’s standing at the banks of the Turner River two weeks later trying to take a photograph of a tri-colored heron. Humans=food source. If you’re a gator, you don’t have to over-complicate that formula. Gators don’t want to eat people; we aren’t on their natural diet. But we can confuse them when we muck around trying to be Steve Irwin with the cute alligators.
(side opinion: Irwin, I think, understood his connection to nature in an extraordinary way although even he couldn’t seem to curb his ego enough to truly subdue it).
I think we are much closer to nature and her creatures than most of us could possibly imagine. I think the barrier between man and nature is of his own making, of his own willingness to separate himself from everybody else living here.
I do not understand the concept of dominion. But I do believe that we are the children of the living Father, even though I also do not understand what I think “the living Father” is. I also believe that I’m standing in the middle of the Kingdom of God and I didn’t start to recognize it until about two years ago, and then, only briefly, and vaguely. But when I look out at the wide sky of the Everglades or slide between the forked roots of the red mangrove forests in a boat, I want to stay there forever. In that perfect plan that will continue to be perfect without me, that will go on in its perfect precision without my input or my opinions or my insecurities. I love it Out There.
Night night, beloveds. Sons and daughters of the living. Where ever you are in the Kingdom. Nighty night.