Fragments of Eden

An extreme fragment of Eden. (An experimental fragment of isolated Amazon forest. Photo from R.O. Bierregaard via Wikipedia.)

This week, I want to tie together two threads, and magically weave a tapestry from them.

First, on Friday, my friend, mentor, and the priest of the church I grew up in, Der Yeprem, came by for breakfast while he was in town. That was monumental just from the fact that he entered our home. A year ago we would have been waving at him from across the yard (and in reality, as he lives in the Midwest, he wouldn’t have been here anyway). But it was also a blessing because Der Yeprem is a spiritual leader that I have always looked up to and continue to. I asked him to pray before breakfast and he surprised me with a line that really moved me. He thanked the Lord for “the fragments of Eden” that are still present that we can still connect with and experience.  

The fragmentation of the Amazon. (Photo by NASA via Wikipedia.)

The fragments of Eden. I’m not sure Der Yeprem knew how powerful a phrase it was that he had just coined.* Fragments conveys that there are still elements of the paradisiacal Gaian reality that can be experienced (i.e. the Earth before five hundred years of colonization, industrialization, and unchecked growth**). It also suggests that all we have left are fragments—fragments that are getting increasingly sparse and fragmented even further until there are just isolated bits of nature visible and experienceable—perhaps too fragmented to even hold together the web of life that they weave. (And of course fragments also refer to the scientific term of habitat fragmentation.)

And yet even at their most fragmented, those fragments still can convey the beauty of the living planet we are part of. Der Yeprem noted that as he was driving into Middletown, he drove under a bridge along the Connecticut River and saw a white bird, “neither a pigeon nor a seagull,” but something beautiful (artfully and humbly conveying both his awe for creation and acknowledgement of his own ecological illiteracy***). Even in the car, rushing from point A to Point B, we can be affected by those fragments—and if open to them, they can reveal how we too are tied to Gaia.

There are awe-inspiring fragments of Eden everywhere, if we just stop and look. (Image by Felix Brönnimann via Pixabay)

Predicaments and Miracles

Now the second thread—or the woof of this tapestry. At the Gaian Discussion this past week, one participant, evolutionary activist Jerry Riverstone, noted how he never talks about “the ecological predicament we’re in without also talking about the miracle.” Others in the discussion suggested words other than “miracle:” wonder, wonderment, exaltation, but call it what you will, Riverstone’s point is a powerful one. So much of our energy and communication is around collapse, climate change, ecological loss, that we don’t focus on the many fragments of Eden that abound, or their beauty. That is not to say we should ignore the predicament. That would lead to even fewer fragments, to more suffering, and to less life. But weaving the wonder in more: to our own spiritual practices (whatever one’s tradition****), to our activism, and to our outreach and communication is essential—both to stay connected to Gaia as well as to convey the importance of continuing to take action.

Finally, in dedication to Der Yeprem, I’m keeping this week’s reflection short. I know, with all the information and email we get, 1200 words sometimes is a bar too high to reach! So with that, I wish you all opportunities to connect with the miracle, the wonderment, and the fragments of Eden that are still within our reach.

The Hunt of the Unicorn is one of the most celebrated sets of tapestries in history (from about 1500 CE). Typically, the tapestry where the unicorn is imprisoned is best known. But here is a scene of a fragment of Eden in the moment before man rips it apart. (From Wikipedia.)


*Googling I found a few other uses of the phrase: an episode of a nature documentary series from 1984. And some pretend relic from the videogame, Assassin’s Creed. But I’m pretty sure neither of those influenced my friend’s words!

**I am not romanticizing life before the modern age. And at least in Europe and Asia we would have to go back far earlier than 500 years to get a glimpse of Eden. But North America, before the colonization by Europeans, must have been miraculous to behold, and living in North America, as I do, I sometimes see glimpses of that majesty, even if it’s just a fragment of a fragment of a fragment at this point.

**And to be fair, I say that humbly acknowledging my own nearly complete ecological illiteracy. Truthfully I know few westerners who aren’t ecologically illiterate, and when it comes to the Gaian whole, is there anyone who can be truly more than partially literate? (Just as no one can know all the languages in the world, no one can understand all the species, ecosystems, geological, biological, chemical, and other holistic interactions of such a vast living entity.)

***Another part of my conversation with Der Yeprem revolved around holding church services outdoors—in those fragments of Eden—to better connect with God’s creation. Also as Der Yeprem noted, God, in Armenian (Asdvadz), means the one who brought us here, which as a Gaian, is a meaning that is much easier to find common ground with!

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  1. Bart Everson

    I’m particularly taken by the impossibility of a complete Gaian literacy, the observation that “no one can understand all the species, ecosystems, geological, biological, chemical, and other holistic interactions of such a vast living entity.” Awe-inspiring.

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