“Listen to the Heartbeat”

Psalm 104

“O Lord, how manifold are thy works!  In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy creatures!”

“The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.  If one piece busts, even the smallest piece…the whole universe will get busted…I see that I am a little piece of a big, big universe.”  Some of you may recognize this quote from the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, a movie I found so disturbing that I said, “I don’t want to ever see that again,” and yet so utterly amazing that I have not been able to get it out of my mind. 

It’s a story of harsh realism and yet of fantastical, mysticism about a very close-knit Louisiana community called “the Bathtub —living on the batture, that isolated fragile coastal area that exists on the far side of the levees, close to the open waters of Gulf, dependent upon the sea and the swamp, living in harmony with the creatures of the wild. 

What they call home, these shacks made of scraps, some of them boats, abandoned cars, we urbanized city slickers would call poverty

But it is paradise to little Hushpuppy, the star of the show, a wild wonderful fearless 6 year old girl whose own heart is so in tune with the natural world that repeatedly we see her holding a bird, a baby chick, a fish, any creature, putting it up to her ear, and listening to its heartbeat.   

She is the one who says “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right.”  She is the one who believes that the batture, the Bathtub, is “the prettiest place on Earth.”  It is her home.

But her home is continually threatened not only by nature:  climate change, rising seas, the devastation of Katrina; but also by humans:  industrialization, commercialization, a system that does not understand how “everything fits together,” and does not stop to “listen to the heartbeat,” and which contributes to the destruction of natural habitats and this child’s home.  But make no mistake:  this film is not just about Hushpuppy and her isolated community.  It is about US.  This habitat, these coastal wetlands, is our home too, our shelter from the storm, our first line of defense. Upon it, for better/for worse, we  have built our houses. 

But watching this film, the words of Henry David Thoreau, spoken back in the 1850’s, come to mind, “What is the use of a house if you haven’t a tolerable planet to put it on?”

A tolerable planet!  That’s what we read about in Psalm 104, a powerfully poetic celebration of the stunningly beautiful, miraculous life that thrives on this precious planet we call home. 

For the last 2 weeks I have been on vacation at a place to which I have returned again and again for the last 20 years, the Bon Secour Wildlife Reserve, a state park in Gulf Shores, AL, one of the few undeveloped protected beaches in our nation, sand as soft and white as sugar, the sea and sky with every shade of blue and green,  where sea turtles nests are carefully guarded, where sand dunes and sea oats are nourished, where one can walk for miles without seeing another human, but teeming with all sorts of life:  egrets, gulls, sandpipers, mussels, mantas, schooling fish, and the dolphins. 

I have been living Psalm 104!  And I have been listening to the heartbeat of creation, the roar of the ocean, the wash of the waves, the splash of the fish, the sounds of the gulls, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.   

I cannot walk that beautiful beach without remembering going to that same beach when I was girl, back in the 60’s, back when oceanic oil spills had become a major environment problem, before the EPA had begun to make a difference, and how spoiled the beach was by oil, so much so that I could not walk along the shoreline without my feet turning completely black on the bottom.  Today, in the aftermath of the tragic Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Coast Guard continually combs the beach for oil and tar balls.  Environmental groups like “Save the Coast” monitor the well-being of the protected areas and its wildlife. 

But even with such growing public concern to save the coast, our own coastal wetlands lose a “football field every hour,” 16 square miles a year.  One of these days that football field may be the Superdome!  Which football field are you ready to give up?

The passage of the RESTORE act by Congress, the BP reparations dedicated to coastal restoration, efforts of groups like the ones represented on our C4CC, all give me hope.  But there is hope only if we learn to rethink our relationship to the water, to nature, to all creation, like the Dutch have taught us, to live with the water, its ebb and flow, its rise and fall, and not against the water.  Only if we learn to listen for the heartbeat.

I think of Hushpuppy and how she listened to the heartbeat, and I cannot help but think of the spirituality of the ancient Celtics who lived Psalm 104, who believed that the very breath of God pervades all of nature, from the greatest to the smallest of all living things, that the very heart of God beats in all of creation, that we are called, in harmony and unity with nature, to “tune our hearts to sing God’s praise.”

One of the ancient Celtic prayers goes:  “May the goodness of the sea be thine, the goodness of the earth be thine, the goodness of heaven be thine.  May the grace of the love of the skies be thine, the stars, the moon, the sun be thine…There is no plant in the ground but is full of His virtue, no life in the sea, no creature in the river, there is naught in the firmament but proclaim his goodness, Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, who ought to be praised!—over me, below me, in earth, in air, in heaven, in the great pouring sea.”  Source.  Savior. Shelter.