On Reading “A Psalm for a New Human Species”
When reading Psalm 8 it is easy to make the mistake of thinking that the message at its center—concerning mankind’s “being made a little lower than the heavenly beings” and our dominion over creation—is actually at its heart, and easy to think that the point is our elevated position, itself, rather than the fact that we hold it by the unmerited and astonishing grace of the Father who truly sits upon the throne of creation. But the framing “Oh, Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” is what encompasses and surpasses all that comes within, drawing out the necessity of humility (even in our dominion) at having been appointed to this place according to God’s good pleasure, rather than our worthiness.
Indeed, when considering how evolutionary accounts of human origins and our relationship with the rest of creation complement the biblical witness and deepen our theology and life of worship, this point comes to the fore: that recognizing our contiguousness with the rest of the animal world is not an affront to God, but is rather His gift to us — a spiritually beneficial affront to human pride in our own “specialness,” if that term is understood as anything other than God’s free gift and challenge. Ultimately, the imago Dei is not a characteristic, but His continuing presence with us and His continuing desire for us to be about the hard, sacrificial work of bringing His kingdom to bear on the world.
There is more than an echo of these thoughts about the way divine priorities upend our sense of the natural order in Kathleen L. Housley’s poem below. As the editors of Image put it when she was that journal’s Artist of the Month in November 2007, Housley writes “[w]ith acute, scientific exactness, her poems teach[ing] us a delight in the creation, in its multiplicity and surprise. A patient teacher, Housley leads us to the pleasure of the concrete and specific. Birds, animals, reptiles, humans: the poems offer a taxonomy of creation that is at once tender and wise, and a care for the life and nuance of speech that is both urgent and long-sighted.” Here, she wonders with and for us about the nature of our own vaunted uniqueness, marked as much by our rejection of the Creator as by our ability to worship Him. May we consider her words and be humbled as we tread the long path from our lost Eden towards the New Jerusalem.
Psalm for a New Human Species
What was Homo floresiensis
that you were mindful of her,
walking upright in the shadow
of a volcano on the third island
east of Bali, a mere 18,000 years ago,
if electron spin resonance and
radiocarbon luminescence be true?
Was your name majestic
in the rainforest’s green depth
when you gave her kind dominion
over your peculiar menagerie:
pygmy elephants, komodo dragons,
giant tortoises, and strange fauna
drifting eastward on the sea’s paths
to create new Edens where wombats
gestated their young in pouches,
and honeyeaters whistled staccato?
If, as it is written, you made man
but a little lower than the angels,
putting all things beneath his feet,
what do you want me, Homo sapiens,
to do with her—my little sister,
barely a meter tall, whose soft bones
were found in a limestone cave
covered by volcanic ash? I thought
my brawling-sprawling forebears
were the last Homo species standing.
But now, like a lovechild from your
wilder youth, she appears, offering
proof of kinship based on brain size,
the morphology of her wrist bones,
compelling me to wonder: what
immutable transgression locked
her kind into paradise, and mine out.