What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory. - Psalm 8:4-5 (NRSV)
Extremophiles are microorganisms that thrive in unforgiving conditions, some miles below earth’s surface, others in temperatures reaching 250 degrees. Some breathe iron, others consume hydrogen, some eat rocks. Some have barely detectable respiration rates. They lead mellow lives for millions of years. Zen microbes.
While we’re frantically trying to lengthen our lifespans, these invisibilities are eating granite and living practically forever. While we’re madly thumbing our phones, there are bugs out there in lotus positions just being bugs – no mortgages, no soccer practice, no sibling rivalries, no lousy jobs.
No brains, either. No self-awareness, no emotions, no music, no aspirations, no pizza. Not a Michelangelo, Morrison, or Mookie among them. Long after we’ve disappeared from the planet, extremophiles will placidly be eating rocks. Which is humbling. Still, I wouldn’t want to be one.
For even when we humans also find ourselves at the far limits of livability, eating grief instead of bread, breathing pain instead of air, colonizing a subsurface world of grief and fear, clinging to life in the hot core of anger or the frozen crust of indifference, subsisting for what seems like eternity on paper-thin hopes, we’re still able to dream a different world. We’re still able feel our neighbors’ pain. We can sing and we can fight. We can desire.
And we can praise. Praise the God who crowns us with these gifts, this human glory. Praise the Love that expands our spiritual habitable zone beyond the harsh geology of our weaknesses and sins, far beyond the airless malice of this age.
Who are we that you think of us? Even in extremis, that you love us? We wear your crown. Praise to you forever.
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.