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The Magic of Life

by Wes Milliman

It is common knowledge that we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, and, when we include eating, working, and daydreaming into the equation, probably seventy per cent of our time is accounted for in these rather mundane activities. It is difficult to remain attentive when we have to repeat the same patterns of behavior day-in and day-out. Is it possible to awaken from this stupor? Can we rediscover the lost art of magical living? Let us begin with some magical thinking.

Suppose you put ten pennies, marked from one to ten, into your pocket and give them a good shuffle. Now try to take them out in sequence from one to ten, putting back the coin each time and shaking them all again. Mathematically, we know that your chance of first drawing number one is one in ten; of drawing one and two in succession, one in one hundred; of drawing one, two and three in succession, one in a thousand, and so on; your chance of drawing them all, from number one to number ten in succession, would reach the unbelievable figure of one chance in ten billion.

By the same reasoning, so many exacting conditions are necessary for life on the earth that it is difficult to believe that they could possibly exist in a proper relationship by chance. The earth rotates on its axis one thousand miles per hour; if it turned at one hundred miles an hour, our days and nights would be ten times as long, and the sun would burn up our vegetation each long day, while in the long night any surviving sprout would freeze.

Again, the sun, source of our life, has a surface temperature of 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and our earth is just far enough away so that this eternal fire warms us just enough but not too much. If the sun gave off only one half its present radiation, we would freeze, and, if it gave half as much more, we would roast.

The slant of the earth, tilted at an angle of twenty-three degrees, gives us our seasons; if it had not been so tilted, vapors from the ocean would move north and south, piling up for us continents of ice. If our moon was, say, only 50,000 miles away instead of its actual distance, our tides would be so enormous that twice a day all continents would be submerged; even the mountains would soon be eroded away. If the crust of the earth had been only ten feet thicker, there would be no oxygen, without which all animal life would be an impossibility. Had the ocean been a few feet deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would have been absorbed and no vegetable life could exist. Or, if our atmosphere had been much thinner, some of the meteors, now burned in space by the millions every day, would be striking all parts of the earth, setting fires everywhere.

Many people think that all of these conditions are the result of randomness and ordered chaos. What is the chance for all of these delicate conditions to exist for the possibility of life without rhyme or reason? Perhaps randomness is an infinite form of order that we are unable to comprehend.

Beyond scientific explanations regarding cause and effect and how things function, the exact nature of life and consciousness is still a great mystery. Some philosophers believe that the symbol systems that we use in order to understand ourselves and the world are inadequate as a means to comprehend something as magical as the nature of consciousness. On a very deep level, the life current seems to be an irresistible force, for instance a growing root will crack a rock in its attempt to reach the light of day. Life has conquered water, land and air, mastering the elements, compelling them to dissolve and reform their combinations.

Life, the sculptor, shapes all living things; an artist, it designs every leaf of every tree and colors every flower. Life is a musician and has taught each bird to sing its love songs, while the insects call each other in the mysterious rhythms and vibrations of an unknown symphony. Life is a sublime chemist, giving taste to fruits and spices, and perfume to the rose, changing water and carbonic acid into sugar and wood, and, in so doing, releasing oxygen that animals may have life.

Behold an almost invisible drop of protoplasm, transparent, jellylike, capable of motion, drawing energy from the sun. This single cell, this transparent mistlike droplet, holds within itself the germ of life, and has the power to distribute this life to every living thing, great and small. The powers of this droplet are greater than our vegetation and animals and people, for all life came from it.

The young salmon spends years at sea, then comes back to his own river, and travels up the very side of the river into which flows the tributary where it was born. What brings him back so precisely? If you transfer him to another tributary, he will know at once that he is off his course and fight his way down and back to the main stream and turn up against the current to finish his destiny accurately.

Even more difficult to solve is the mystery of eels. These amazing creatures migrate at maturity from all ponds and rivers everywhere---those from Europe across thousands of miles of ocean---all bound for the same abysmal depths near Bermuda. There, they breed and die. The little ones, with no apparent means of knowing anything except that they are in a wilderness of water, nevertheless start back and find their way not only to the shore from which their parents came but to the rivers, lakes or little ponds---so that each body of water is always populated with eels. No European eel has ever been caught in America, nor an American eel in European waters. Nature has even delayed the maturity of the European eel by a year or more to make up for its longer journey.

A wasp will overpower a grasshopper, dig a hole in the earth, sting the grasshopper in exactly the right place so that he does not die but becomes unconscious and lives on as a preserved form. Then, the wasp will lay her eggs handily so that her children, when they hatch, can nibble without killing the insect upon which they feed; to them dead meat would be fatal. The mother then flies away and dies; she never sees her young. Such mysterious techniques cannot be explained by adaptation.

Of course, human beings have something more than animal instinct, and that something is the power of reason. No other animal has ever left a record of its ability to count to ten. Where instinct is like a single note of a flute, beautiful but limited, the human brain contains all the notes of all the instruments in the orchestra.

I am surprised that our genes are not included as one of the seven or eight wonders of the world. So unspeakably tiny are these genes that, if all of them responsible for all living people in the world could be put in one place, there would be less than a thimbleful. Yet, these ultramicroscopic genes and their companions, the chromosomes, inhabit every living cell and are the absolute keys to human, animal and vegetable characteristics. A thimble is a small place in which to put all the individual characteristics of five billion human beings; however, the facts are beyond question. Well, then---how do genes lock up all the normal heredity of a multitude of ancestors and preserve the psychology of each in such an infinitely small space?

Here evolution really begins---at the cell, the entity which holds and carries the genes. How a few million atoms, locked up as an ultramicroscopic gene, can absolutely rule all life on earth is an example of profound cunning and provision. The human genome project is now mapping this mystery of creative intelligence.

Many years ago a species of cactus was planted in Australia as a protective fence. Having no insect enemies in Australia, the cactus soon began to multiply with alarming speed; this increased abundance persisted until the plants covered an area as long and wide as England, crowding inhabitants out of towns and villages, and destroying their farms. Seeking a defense, the entomologists scoured the world; finally, they turned up an insect which lived exclusively on cactus, and would eat nothing else. It would breed freely, too; and it had no enemies in Australia. So, this animal soon conquered the cactus pest, and a small protective residue of the insects is enough to hold the cactus in check forever.

Such checks and balances have been universally provided by nature. Why have not fast-breeding insects dominated the earth? Insects have no lungs like we possess; they breathe through tubes. When insects grow large, their tubes do not grow in ratio to the increasing size of their body. Hence there never has been an insect of great size; this limitation on growth has held them in check. If this physical check had not been provided, we would not exist.

Human beings possess the unique faculty of the imagination. By its power, we alone can find the evidence of things unseen. This ability provides us with the possibility of an almost unlimited visionary horizon; indeed, as our imagination explores the many dimensions of life, love, and the universe, we can rediscover the lost art of magical living. Life is a sacred dance, and we are on a magical mystery tour. By staying alert and attentive, we will experience the joy of living life to its best advantage. This approach does require a little effort on our part. To regain the paradise that is our natural inheritance, we must transform our awareness and experience the miracle of the moment.

After graduating from college and seminary, Wes worked for eleven years at a local newspaper. Currently, he is a freelance journalist and dealer in religious artifacts. Wes travels the world each year visiting religious leaders of all faiths. He also loves to study the architecture of ancient churches, monasteries, temples, synagogues, and mosques. For a free set of tapes or CD's of Benedictine monks chanting prayers for world peace, including two free packets of sacred holy water from Lourdes, France, and Fatima, Portugal, for healing, and two free packets of holy ash (blessed by the Pope and the Dalai Lama) to be used as an aid for contemplation and meditation, please send $4.97 for shipping charges to: Wes Milliman, P.O. Box 6094, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106.

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