Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sixth Week of Lent: The Star Thrower

Once in a lifetime, perhaps, one escapes the actual confines of the flesh.Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons,the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon without discomfort.
-Loren Eiseley

Stories are the lifeblood of the spirit. I have a handful of such stories that have formed, informed, and built my life over the past 45 years. The wondrous preacher Fred Craddock, the amazing Tony Campolo, pastoral care guru Howard Clinebell all contributed. Only Loren Eiseley contributed a unique and enduring story in the midst of some of the most scientifically enriching writings of his day.

Loren Eiseley was called a spiritual wanderer and naturalist in the title of a 1986 essay by Joan Rosen in the Language Arts Journal of Michigan. Rosen wrote:
Nature is Loren Eiseley's teacher. In the creatures of the natural world, in the stars, in the flora and fauna, he witnesses the miracles and wonders of the ages…. [When Eiseley] describes Thoreau as "a spiritual wanderer through the deserts of the modern world” in "Thoreau's Vision of the Natural World" in the essay collection The Star Thrower he is describing himself.

Trained as an anthropologist he had a poet’s feel for words and an amazing eye for the unique and wondrous things of the world. Some quotes from Eiseley that shape his ideas and his incredible spirituality:
If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water
he wrote about the very beginnings of life on our planet, coming out of the primal seas. But there was a growing of life that at some point produced the human race and then:
For the first time in four billion years a living creature had contemplated himself and heard with a sudden, unaccountable loneliness, the whisper of the wind in the night reeds.
That loneliness, sadly, can turn to hubris. The result as we are seeing can be dangerous. Eiseley, who died over 40 years ago saw it coming:
When man becomes greater than nature, nature, which gave us birth, will respond.
Humanity is on an incredible pilgrimage within nature, as Thoreau and Leopold, Dillard and Olson have seen. It is not easy and never ends. Eiseley was one of the tour guides for me.
The journey is difficult, immense. We will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or to learn all that we hunger to know.
Of all the descendants of Thoreau, Loren Eiseley stands alone in my estimation. Some of his anthropology and science have been changed in these 40 years. We have broader and deeper understandings of the world and how we have come to be where we are. But his foundation is as unshaken as it was when I first read him well over 45 years ago. He calls us to pay attention equally to both the little and big things. He calls us to be aware- mindful in our 21st Century language- of what we do and how we live. He calls us to see within us the spirit of one greater than ourselves.

His greatest story, told and retold countless times over these years, often without attribution, has become almost a trite motivational trope. I found a number of “quotes” that were supposedly from Eiseley, but are paraphrases, retellings of retellings of the original. It is powerful, mind-boggling, and more than just a nice motivational story. It is the story of our calling as humans with nature and each other. Here is a very short version of "The Star Thrower." What a perfect way to prepare for Easter in a week and a half:
In a pool of sand and silt a starfish had thrust its arms up stiffly and was holding its body away from the stifling mud.

"It's still alive," I ventured.

"Yes," he said, and with a quick yet gentle movement he picked up the star and spun it over my head and far out into the sea. It sunk in a burst of spume, and the waters roared once more.

..."There are not many who come this far," I said, groping in a sudden embarrassment for words. "Do you collect?"

"Only like this," he said softly, gesturing amidst the wreckage of the shore. "And only for the living." He stooped again, oblivious of my curiosity, and skipped another star neatly across the water. "The stars," he said, "throw well. One can help them."

I had seen the star thrower cross that rift and he had reasserted the human right to define his own frontier. He had moved to the utmost edge of natural being. I had been unbelieving, hardened by the indifference of maturity. I arose with a solitary mission, to find the star thrower beneath his rainbow. I found him on a projecting point of land in the sweet rain-swept morning. Silently, I sought and picked up a still-living star, spinning it far out into the wave. I spoke once briefly. “I understand,” I said, “call me another thrower.” Only then I allowed myself to think. He is not alone any longer. After us there will be others. We were part of the rainbow – like the drawing of a circle in men’s minds, the circle of perfection.
I picked and flung another star. I could feel the movement in my body. It was like a sowing – the sowing of life on an infinitely gigantic scale. I looked back over my shoulder, and small and dark against the receding rainbow, the star thrower stooped and flung one more. I never looked back again. The task we assumed was too immense for gazing. I flung and flung again while all about us roared the insatiable waters of death, the burning sun, for it was men as well as starfish that we sought to save, a thrower who loved not man, but life. -Link

The Loren Eiseley Society.

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