Celebrating Mother's Day and Father's Day in May and June is most appropriate, amid an explosion of life in our part of the world. So, on this Father's Day, consider the concept of father. We pay respects to fathers of our lives, fathers of our town and nation, fathers of ideals and ideas. And in the realm of nature, people have spoken of "Sun Father." But the grandest of them all is "Father Sky."
Most readers are probably aware that American Indians pay reverence to Father Sky, but they are not alone in this tradition. The ancient Greeks referred to Father Sky as the second of the gods to emerge out of chaos. First came Gaea, Mother Earth, then Uranus, Father Sky. From the union of this pair came all the gods of Mount Olympus and eventually people. If we think about it, it is easy to see what lies behind these concepts. All of the materials of our bodies and our lives come from the earth that nourishes us from birth to death, and moisture and light come from the sky to energize the children of Mother Earth.Nonetheless, referring to Earth as Mother and sky as Father seems primitive to some people. It is primitive in the sense of going far back in time, but it is not without complex inspiration and insight. Familiarity with science can actually make one more comfortable, rather than less, with the idea of the sky as a progenitor. In this article, I want to emphasize that the more we know of chemistry, physics and astronomy, the more we can appreciate the wisdom of early humans in these natural parental concepts.
Tracing out genealogy takes us back through our DNA lineage, but there is another ancestry we might look at if we want to understand all we can about our existence. I refer to the origin of the natural materials of which our bodies are made and thrive.
We could no more exist without the chemical elements in life than we could without the genes that make us individual human beings. Why do we have an abundance of oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and all the other elements composing the molecules that give life and motion to our bodies? These elements have not always existed. They have come down to us from the stars.
Many billions of years ago, life as we know it could not have existed, for the early universe had only hydrogen and traces of helium, but perfectly good stars could be made from hydrogen. Gravity pulled hydrogen atoms together into clumps, collapsing under the growing powers of gravity as more and more atoms flowed into them. Finally the temperatures at the centers of these gravitational blobs became high enough that thermonuclear fusion (H-bomb type reactions) began and stars radiated energy all around them. Stars are wondrous things: they are energy factories, but they are also element factories, for the same processes that power the stars create heavier elements, including oxygen, carbon and nitrogen.
Some very massive stars reached states of instability, exploding to scatter their chemical products into surrounding space. Thus, newer and heavier elements mixed into the interstellar clouds out of which later generations of stars would form. Again and again this process took place - creation of elements inside stars, spewed out and mixed with immense hydrogen clouds that continued to produce ever richer stars. So it was that the sun was formed, and orbiting round it was a fleet of planets, one blue with moisture, white with clouds, red with rocks, green with plants and eventually gleaming at night with constellations of lights revealing human presence.
This is the astrophysical account of how Mother Earth acquired from Father Sky such a rich collection of elemental building blocks that made the mineral and biological kingdoms: rocks in all their gleaming crystalline variations; trees and other plants in manifold intricate and wonderful patterns; marine life, insects, birds and animals to swim, fly, creep, crawl and run about; and homo sapiens to look around and attempt to fathom it all. Someone once said that human beings are, after all, atoms' ways of knowing about atoms, stars' ways of studying stars and one example of the universe's way of contemplating itself! Such is the gift from Father Sky.
Whether you think along with ancient Greeks, American Indians, or contemporary cosmologists, the notion of Father Sky can seem just as appropriate to us now as it did in days gone by. Looking around through telescopes and microscopes, up, down, within and beyond, we see new and profound meanings in ideas inherited from archaic times, ideas nicely expressed in the following Tewa (Pueblo) poem:
Oh our Mother the Earth, oh our Father the Sky,
Your children are we, and with tired backs
We bring you the gifts that you love
Then weave for for us a garment of brightness;
May the warp be the white light of morning,
May the weft be the red light of evening,
May the fringes be the falling rain,
May the border be the standing rainbow.
Thus weave for us a garment of brightness
That we may walk fittingly where birds sing,
That we may walk fittingly where grass is green,
Oh our Mother the Earth, of our Father the Sky!
Please take a moment on this Father's Day to feel the warmth, to enjoy the deep blue fabric of daylight and to be inspired by the touch of starlight from the velvet robes of Father Sky.