Evolution and religion are often seen as contradictory. Either God created the world, or it evolved through mindless violent mechanisms. Evolution has been simplistically portrayed as a cutthroat contest, the survival of the fittest where competition rules and the weak are ruthlessly eliminated.

But more and more, scientists are beginning to acknowledge the even stronger role played by cooperation. They're finding that no organism evolves alone, that evolution is really coevolution, with complex systems developing together in intricate webs of interdependence. In that view, evolution itself has a beauty that can lead us into the heart of mystery and the presence of the sacred.

Just by breathing, we participate in natural balance.

An earth-based spirituality has no need to divorce itself from scientific inquiry. It can take the cold facts of science and weave into them the sense of awe and wonder with which it approaches the mysteries. For the more science tells us about the physical world, the more wonderful and miraculous the processes of life are shown to be. When I teach ritual and magic, I often find myself "preaching evolution." Here's one meditation I use: Find a place where green things surround you: a meadow, forest, hillside. Lie down for a moment and take a deep breath, filling your lungs completely, letting your belly expand as you inhale, pushing the air fully out when you exhale. Consider for a moment the miracle of air: nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other things suspended in a perfect mix that sustains life.

Your lungs are taking in oxygen. Your blood is carrying it to every cell of your body where it fuels the process by which food is transformed into energy. Oxygen is itself a gift of the green things. As they take the nourishing sunlight, they give off the oxygen that we breathe. As we breathe out, we give off the carbon dioxide that they need. Just by breathing, we participate in natural balance.

Without the gift of the green world, we cannot live. Breathe in with gratitude. Breathe out the conscious gift of love.

Breathe deeply. With every cell of your body, let yourself know the great creativity inherent in life, an inventiveness not bound to a brain, an imagination that transcends consciousness. Like a kaleidoscope, forming then shaking loose and re-forming patterns, life tries out shape after shape. Take one molecule of magnesium, place a nitrogen molecule in each of the four directions and make it the head of a five-fold ring completed by four carbon molecules. Link each ring with another carbon, holding a tiny hydrogen by the hand, and you have the central of the mandala of chlorophyll, the miracle pattern that transforms sunlight into food by a process so complex scientists can barely describe it, let alone explain it.

Air, that complex element, is life's gift to life. It is the perfect mix of what we need, what the plants need. The delicate balance, sustained by life itself. Precious, primally important, sacred.

Breathe in, breathe out. Feel your part in that balance. Each breath is a gift of the ancestors. Each breath is a gift of the living world. Each breath is part of the balance.

Know that within every cell of your body lies great creativity, creativity that can turn light to food and food to energy.

Breathe in with gratitude. Breathe out with love.

Try this in your garden. Try it when you read the latest report about the clear-cutting of the redwoods or the decimation of the Amazon rainforest. Don't let it make you complacent, but use it as an antidote to despair. For the more we appreciate the miracle of breath, the more we can be inspired to protect the delicate balance that sustains life. And to do that, we will need all the creativity and imagination we can evoke. Praise evolution!

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