Friday, September 12, 2014

Through the Ages

Inna Rabbakumul-lahu-ladhi khalaqas-samawati wal-arda fi sittati ayyamin
-thummas-tawa alal-arshi- yugh-shil-laylan-nahar
Yugh-shil-laylan-nahara yatlubuhu hathithanw-wash-shamsa wal-qamara wan-nujuma musakhkharatim-bi amrih.
Ala lahul-khalqu wal-amr.
Tabarakal-lahu Rabbul-alamin.

From Surah 7:  Al-Araf, (The Faculty of Discernment): Ayah 54

Verily, your Sustainer is God who has created the heavens and the earth in six aeons and is established on the throne of His almightiness.  He covers the day with night in swift pursuit, with the sun and the moon and the stars subservient to His command:  oh verily, His is all creation and all command.  Hallowed is God, the Sustainer of all the worlds!  [54]

Last week we saw, and touched, and stood on the evidence of six aeons of God’s creation.  A most remarkable thing.  In trying to convey that experience, I am reminded of the scene in the movie “Contact,” when the astronomer Ellie has come back from her journey to the stars to commune with other beings, and she is trying to explain the experience to the audience at a Congressional hearing.  She says “I wish I could convey the wonder – how incredibly beautiful - and how tiny and precious we all are in this overwhelmingly vast universe.”

Quran says, in Surah 17, Al-Israa (The Night Journey):

The seven heavens extol Allah’s limitless glory, and the earth, and all that they may contain; and there is not a single thing but extols Allah’s limitless glory and praise:  but you fail to grasp the manner of their glorifying Allah.”  [44]

Standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and walking through the cliffs at Zion National Park, and looking over the unbelievably beautiful vistas at Bryce Canyon and Arches and Canyonlands; I wished everyone could experience that glory.

When I found reference to six aeons of earth’s creation in Quran, I was not surprised.  There have been five mass extinction events in the history of life on earth, each of which wiped out at least 50% of all existing life.  (And, by the way, many more minor extinctions.)  We are now living in the sixth aeon, or era to use the scientific term.  And the record of all those eras is exposed in the cliffs of those canyons.

This, in a nutshell, is how it happened.  Starting about 70 million years ago, a huge reservoir of magma deep beneath the earth’s surface pushed the surface of the earth up thousands of feet higher than the surrounding area.  This area is now known as the Colorado Plateau, and it covers most of the state of Utah, and parts of Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado.  Some of the magma escaped to the surface through volcanos, which created mountains in different parts of the plateau.  Rain from those mountains collected in rivers, especially the Colorado River, which over time carved through the layers of rock, creating geographical features that are unique in the world.  By the time the Colorado River reached the area of the Grand Canyon, (an area as big as the state of Delaware), over millions of years it carved through layers and layers of rock – rock that had been deposited in layers over 1.7 billion years.  Now, the lowest layers of the canyon expose the oldest rock, rock that was the exposed surface of the earth 1.7 billion years ago, and is know as the Vishnu group (named after the Hindu God).  Because of the erosion that happened at the top layers of the Grand Canyon, when we stood at the top of the cliffs we were standing on rock that dated back to the Permian period, about 250 million years ago.  The mass extinction that happened at the end of that period has been nicknamed The Great Dying, because 96% of species alive at that time died out. All life on Earth today is descended from the 4% of species that survived it.

And when we looked into the canyon, one mile down, and ten miles across, we could see the stratification – the layers upon layers of different kinds of rock – each layer is the deposits that were laid down and solidified as more layers were deposited on top of them.  And each layer was a different climate, a different environment.  There before us were the petrified remnants of forest environments, tropical environments, oceans, savannahs and deserts – era after era, layer after layer.  Each layer contains fossilized remnants of the now extinct life forms that lived in them.  Yes, of course dinosaurs, which lived before the last mass extinction event.  But also the remants of life forms even stranger - trilobites, brachiopods and graptolites from the Ordovician-Silurian era, and so many more.  All representatives of the more than 99% of all the life that has ever existed on earth, that is now extinct.   All part of the many worlds Allah has created over time (and that’s just the ones we know about on this planet)!


Ud’u Rabbakum tadarru anw-wa khufyah.  Innahu la yuhibbul-mu tadin.

Surah 7:  Al-Araf (The Faculty of Discernment):
Call unto your Sustainer humbly, and in the secrecy of your hearts.  Verily, He loves not those who transgress the bounds of what is right: [55] hence, do not spread corruption on earth after it has been so well ordered.  And call unto Him with fear and longing:  verily, God’s grace is ever near unto the doers of good!  [56]

The enormity and beauty of the vistas, and the history spread before us at the Grand Canyon and the rest literally took my breath away:  that and the heights.  I am a person with a healthy fear – bordering on phobia – of  heights.  And this trip was ALL about heights.  So my sense of exhilaration in seeing these marvels was at least in part due to the intense stimulation of that part of my brain that triggers the sense of danger.  I was never at ease standing on the edges of those cliffs, looking 6, 7, 10 thousand feet down, or driving on narrows roads with steep inclines, sharp curves, drops thousands of feet and many times without guard rails.  And this brings me to the second way in which this trip was an intense spiritual experience for me.  I did call unto God most humbly, that whole week, with fear and longing.  I prayed a lot.  And I thought a lot about the power of prayer.  Did I believe that God was hearing my prayers and answering them, keeping us all safe?  Or was my praying just a way to calm me down – a mantra on which to focus?  My own answer to those questions is yes to both, followed by another question – does it really matter which is the case?  Revelation teaches us to pray.  How it works – well, I guess that is for God to know and for us, a matter of faith. 

But I can tell you that God had given me a sign two weeks before we drove through those parks, a sign that sustained me through my fear and nervousness.  When we were driving back into Lincoln, Nebraska at midnight in Sara’s car, after picking Osama up from the airport for her graduation the next day, I was dozing in the back seat and I had a vivid memory – of a car accident I’d had with her years before, that was serious, but we were not injured, Al Hamdulillah.  And I felt this overwhelming sense of peace and protection, like God was telling me “I protected you then, and I will protect you now.”  And right after that a 19 year old girl in a pickup truck turned right in front of us and we crashed into her.  And as I heard Sara swear and slam on the brakes, I felt as if God had enveloped us all in a protective “zone,” and even before we crashed I knew we would be OK. 

And the memory of that almost supernatural feeling – that sense of protection – stayed with me and sustained me against my own fears on the edges of those cliffs, and especially the last day of the trip as we drove toward the airport in Denver, over the Rocky Mountains, through rain and snow and intense fog.  And I thought about the enormity of God’s aeons and the evolution of the earth and the mass extinctions, and the wonder of this miniscule amount of time that humans have been on earth, in comparison, and the miracle of the Creation of all that, and the miracle of the Creation of one little person, each little person in the mass of humanity.

As it says it Surah 50 Qaf, Ayah 16:
Now, Verily, it is We who have created humans, and We know what their innermost self whispers within them:  for we are closer to them than their neck veins. [16]

And Surah Al-Araf continues:
And Allah it is who sends forth the winds as a glad tiding of His coming grace – so that, when they have brought heavy clouds, We may drive them towards dead land and cause thereby water to descend; and by this means do We cause all manner of fruit to come forth.  Even thus shall We cause the dead to come forth:  [and this] you ought to keep in mind.  [57]  As for the good land, its vegetation comes forth [in abundance] by its Sustainer’s leave, whereas from the bad it comes forth but poorly.
Thus do We give many facets to Our messages [for the benefit of] people who are grateful!  [58]

Ocean to forest to savannah to desert follow one after the other, all buried, era after era, to the rise of a plateau, and mountains, and the carving of rivers and erosion, and exposure of the levels of creation, observed finally by the eyes of a person, fueled by blood through a neck vein, to a brain created to strive to comprehend and give thanks for it all.

Allahu Akbar, Alhamdulillah.

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