Today I went to Jubilee, a wonderfully alive and joyful "faith community" in Asheville, NC. This is a dog-friendly church, so there are always a few dogs present, but today there were more than usual. Finally I realized it’s St. Francis day, when animals are blessed in churches all over the country. Not only were there lots of dogs, there were a few birds and even one very brave cat.
Howard Hanger, the minister, chose “greed” as his topic: so much is given freely to us, yet we are greedy for more. We sang of the sun, the wind, and all the ways the earth provides for us abundantly (a version of St. Francis of Assisi's hymn, "All Creatures of our God and King"). Howard spoke of the mist flowing through the mountains this morning; what a gift that was. He spoke of the love that flows from our animals, freely and without condition.
This brought to my mind other living creatures that have given a great gift to us: cyanobacteria (algae). Billions of years ago there was no oxygen in the atmosphere. Early microbes evolved the ability to manufacture energy from sunlight—photosynthesis—and oxygen was their “waste” product. Slowly over hundreds of millions of years oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere until it reached the level that could support animals.
I was reminded of this by an article in this morning’s New York Times about a new book, “Oxygen: A Four Billion Year History,” by geochemist Dr. Donald Canfield. The article quotes Dr. Canfield:
“People take oxygen for granted because it’s just there and we breathe it all the time. But we have the only planet we know of anywhere that has oxygen on it.”
Breathe in and give thanks to the cyanobacteria!