Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young) || Woodstock (We Are Stardust)
Is that not the most brilliant song ever? I was too young when Woodstock happened to even know it was going on, but I do remember this song from the background of my childhood. Reading Joni Mitchell’s lyrics as an adult, as a preacher committed to environmental justice, and as a musician, this song blows me away.
“I’m going on down to Yasgur’s farm, I’m gonna join in a rock ‘n’ roll band, I’m gonna camp out on the land, I’m gonna try an’ get my soul free.” This idea of getting back to the land, of making music on the land being a path soul-freedom… It feels very wise, doesn’t it? And it feels absolutely true. Might be why I like singing on the porch so much. 🙂
“We are stardust, We are golden, And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” I don’t know if Joni Mitchell had her Bible open to Psalm 8 while she was writing “Woodstock,” but she could have. Like the psalmist, the chorus of the song goes from stardust to the garden, from the moon and stars to the creation around us. “When I behold your heavens, The work of your fingers, The moon and the stars that you set in place” to “putting all things at our feet– sheep, oxen, birds, fish…”
Fun fact. Psalm 8 was the first biblical text to reach the moon. “The Apollo 11 mission left a silicon disc containing messages from 73 nations, including the Vatican, which contributed the text of Psalm 8.” Cool, huh?
What is the connection between the moon and stardust and the ground beneath our feet? What does that connection mean for us 21st century folk?
When Belinda read Psalm 8, you might have heard that the first verse and the last verse are identical: Yahweh, our Sovereign, How majestic is your Name in all the Earth! One commentator explains: “The word ‘name’ (shem) connotes character and essence; which means that everything in the world gives evidence of God’s sovereign activity.” So, when the psalmist repeats the line about God’s name being majestic in all the Earth, they’re saying, basically, that God is–in the imagery of the time–KING of the universe.
But God’s sovereignty isn’t the end of the story. Not by a long shot, because in God’s sovereignty, God has chosen us– human beings–to help tend creation.
In many ways, Psalm 8 fleshes out Genesis 1:26-28. That’s the passage about being created in the image of God we looked at last week. God created the universe, then God created us…to be “barely less than God,” a.k.a., God created us in God’s image. God “crowned us with glory and honor.” And with that glory and honor and God-like-ness, comes responsibility: “You have made us responsible for the works of your hands, putting all things at our feet–All sheep and oxen, yes, even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea.”
Last week, we celebrated the fact that “God gives us ourselves.” Being created in the image of God, then living our lives as the exact creatures God made us to be…it’s the biggest gift in the universe. Period.
Another profound gift God has given us is entrusting creation to our care. God has chosen to partner with us in caring for creation…which means that God has chosen to share power with humans, to co-create with us. One writer suggests that “God’s ‘name’ or reputation is bound up with the human performance of dominion.”
So…how are we doing? If God’s reputation depends on human performance of dominion, or stewardship, of creation, how’s God’s name now?
The writer goes on to say that, “to fail to take seriously the central importance of humanity in God’s plan for the creation is to abdicate the God-given responsibility to be partners with God in caring for the earth.”
I try not to beat up on people in sermons I preach. I got a lot of that in sermons I heard growing up Baptist. I didn’t find that approach to be very effective in motivating people to change their ways.
But this Psalm…it says so clearly that God has given us responsibility for caring for creation…and we can see just how sick our planet is, just how much critical care creation needs right now…and not just things like recycling and driving energy efficient cars, but in working for national legislation that builds on the Inflation Reduction Act to mitigate the effects of climate change now.
We see and know all of this. And yet, only four people have stepped up to serve on the newly-forming Green Team, and two of the four are only committing to part-time work. Again, this isn’t a beating up on us kind of thing…I do wonder, though, about the lack of response for this vital work. Are we too busy? Are we going in too many different directions? Because we aren’t experiencing directly the most dire circumstances created by climate change, is strong, active participation in climate justice just not on our radar screens?
It might be a little bit of all of that. I know my head spins sometimes with all the different things our UCT community is doing. And every last one of those things is so important! But environmental justice work might be the most critical work we can do. If we don’t tend to that work, none of the rest of the work we’re doing will matter because everything we know–including us–will be gone.
Okay, Pastor. Time to turn it around. Time to give us some hope.
Ah! There IS hope! Because…we are stardust. Stardust! For the science nerds among us, here’s a brief explanation from the American Museum of Natural History of precisely how we are stardust.
“Every atom of oxygen in our lungs, of carbon in our muscles, of calcium in our bones, of iron in our blood – was created inside a star before Earth was born. Hydrogen and helium, the lightest elements, were produced in the Big Bang. Almost all of the other, heavier, elements were produced inside stars. Stars forge heavy elements by fusion in their cores. In a star of intermediate mass, these elements can mix into the star’s atmosphere and be spread into space through stellar winds. During the supernova explosion of a massive star is the only time when elements heavier than iron are fused. The supernova expels this material across interstellar space. The enriched material ejected by stellar winds and supernova explosions becomes part of vast interstellar clouds. The Sun formed within such a cloud, where some of the heavy elements condensed to form Earth.” And those elements form…us. https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent/the-universe/stars/a-spectacular-stellar-finale/we-are-stardust
Here’s how astronomer Carl Sagan explained it: “Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff. The cosmos is within us.”
The cosmos is within us. Particles from some of those nebulae we’re seeing from the Webb telescope could well be floating around inside us. Because the images we’re seeing occurred thousands of years ago. Oh, we don’t have time to get into the time-space continuum… unless we hitched a ride on the Webb telescope…maybe…
If we are stardust, if we attend to the bits of the universe that live inside us, I suspect we’ll find the wisdom and insight we need to engage in our environmental justice work with more vigor. Come on! We’re just a little less than God! Surely, us God-imaged, stardust-riddled beings are wise enough, strong enough, imaginative enough to speed along Earth’s healing!
To help us reflect on how we might–as individuals and as a community–re-engage with our work for environmental justice, we’re offering a ritual. On the face of it, it’ll look like the imposition of ashes we do for Ash Wednesday. There will be ashes. There also will be glitter! We are made from dust and to dust we will return, it’s true. It’s also true that we are made of stardust.
In this ritual, the invitation is to remember your own frailty. Perhaps you’ll want to confess the ways you’ve not always cared for creation in the ways you’d like. At the same time, you’re invited to remember that you are created in God’s image, that there is within you a divine spark…the invitation is to remember that you are stardust.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2022