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Rev. Michael Dowd Headshot

A Scientific Honoring of Death

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Science not only increases our knowledge, it deepens our intimacy with reality. Nowhere is this more evident than in how an evidential worldview helps us honor -- indeed, celebrate -- the role of death at all scales of the cosmos.

My wife, Connie Barlow (a science writer and evolutionary educator), and I have a passion for sharing the "soul-nourishing" side of our new science-based understanding of death with people of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs.

Thanks to the sciences of astronomy, astrophysics, chemistry, geology, paleontology, evolutionary biology, cell biology, embryology, ecology, geograph, and math, we can now not only accept but celebrate that:

  1. Death is natural and creative at every level of reality.
  2. Death is no less "sacred" than life.

The following two litanies (responsive readings) express the science of what we know (not believe) about the material fact of death at all scales of reality.

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The Gifts of Death

1. Without the death of stars, there would be no planets and no life.
2. Without the death of creatures, there would be no evolution.

1. Without the death of elders, there would be no room for children.
2. Without the death of fetal cells, we would all be spheres.

1. Without the death of neurons, wisdom and creativity would not blossom.
2. Without the death of cells in woody plants, there would be no trees.

1. Without the death of forests by Ice Age advance, there would be no northern lakes.
2. Without the death of mountains, there would be no sand or soil.

1. Without the death of plants and animals, there would be no food.
2. Without the death of old ways of thinking, there would be no room for the new.

1. Without death, there would be no ancestors.
2. Without death, time would not be precious.

ALL: What, then, are the gifts of death?

1. The gifts of death are Mars and Mercury, Saturn and Earth.
2. The gifts of death are the atoms of stardust within our bodies.

1. The gifts of death are the splendors of shape and form and color.
2. The gifts of death are diversity, the immense journey of life.

1. The gifts of death are woodlands and soils, ponds and lakes.
2. The gifts of death are food: the sustenance of life.

1. The gifts of death are seeing, hearing, feeling -- deeply feeling.
2. The gifts of death are wisdom, creativity and the flow of cultural change.

1. The gifts of death are the urgency to act, the desire to fully be and become.
2. The gifts of death are joy and sorrow, laughter and tears.

ALL: The gifts of death are lives that are fully and exuberantly lived, and then graciously and gratefully given up, for now and forevermore. Amen

* * *

Yes to the Universe

Stars are born, and stars die. Along the way these stars fashion the very atoms of our bodies.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Mountains are born, and mountains die. Along the way these mountains create the particles of sand and clay that blend with dead plants to become soil.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Glaciers come and glaciers go. Along the way they grind rocks into new soil and sculpt ponds and lakes.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Species come and species go. Along this odyssey of evolution, marvels emerge: eyes, limbs, feathers, song, terror, love.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Cells are born, and cells die. Along the way, the winnowing yields fingers and toes, fins and wings, and the miracle of healing from injury.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Forests of cells are born and die, but not let go. Along the way, these ancestor cells stiffen into wood of uncommon strength and endurance, allowing the living green cells to reach for the sky.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Baby animals are born in abundance, and myriad plant seeds are cast to the wind. Along the way most of these children become food, supporting the vast ecological web of life.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Humans are born, and humans die. Along the way each may blossom with love, and accrue wisdom as elders, and then by their passing make room for generations of children now and forevermore.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Ideas are born, and ideas die. Along the way they nourish the human journey, onward, inward and outward, in an arc of wonder that now embraces a hundred billion galaxies.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Love comes, and love fades, dies or endures. Along the way we experience the richness of existence, sanctified by laughter and tears.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

Each of us is born, and each of us will die. Along the way our awareness of death urges us to live fully, to give fully and to take not one moment for granted.
-- Is this a universe we say Yes to?

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