Fossils

When the children were small, responding to an educational article in the kids' section of the Waikato Times, we drove to a cliff by the road near Raglan, and, armed with an unlikely assortment of tools, dug some Jurassic era bivalves out of the crumbling mudstone. Of course they weren't actually shellfish, they were just the bits that were left; they were not animals but was each an animal shaped rock, that had formed out of the sand filling  the cavities left by something long dead and decayed. One of them was nearly perfect. It looked a bit like a tuatua and I carried it in my pocket for years before giving it to Noah at his baptism.

Ask people who know and they'll look at the rocks and the little fossil shellfish and tell you what was going on at Raglan 150 million years ago,  give or take. It seems that back then a little creature lived briefly on the bed of some long gone sea. It lived as full and as rich a life as a shellfish is capable of living, which consisted I suppose, of filtering sludge and shuffling about the place with its tongue. It avoided those of its contemporaries which sought to eat it and it related, goodness knows how, to others of its kind, maybe even managing to score and leave a few descendants. After a time which seems brief to us but which probably had all the hallmarks of eternity to the shellfish, it karked it, floated to the bottom of the sea, got covered in sand and remained in darkness while continents shifted, and humans evolved sufficiently for one of them to read a newspaper, gather up the kids and go dig it out. For what seemed an eternity to me, I'd find it in my pocket when fumbling for my keys and be silently reminded of the vastness of the universe and of the strange and long forgotten world which once existed where Raglan now temporarily sits.
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I've been reading the prophets. Taken together in one large chunk without the ameliorating influence of  lectionary prescribed sections of the epistles and gospels they can be a bit depressing. Of course there are the wonderful bits about rising on wings like eagles and having the heart of stone taken out and being given a heart of flesh, but mostly it seems as though YHWH is pretty ticked off at all the shenanigans with Asherah poles and is in smiting mode. I'm constantly aware that I'm not reading the full story here: what we have in the books of Joel and Jeremiah and all the others with their odd names is just the bits that were left. Once there was a vibrant, multidimensional culture filled with hope and intrigue and tenderness and violence. Once there were the great ones of the earth duking it out over the riches of  Palestine and the people of Palestine imagining that they were controlling all of that. Once there were some odd men given to piety, and not afraid to speak their minds, and seeing a deeper narrative behind the story of all that seemed so confronting and alarming. And now, like all things, the great ones of the earth are gone, as are the kingdoms they created and the people who inhabited them. All that are left are these words.

Ask people who know and they'll look at these old words and tell you  what was happening between the Euphrates and the Mediterranean Coast in about 600 BC. It was a time of terror and the breaking of permanences. It was a time of anxiety and deep regret, all of which is perfectly preserved in the prophets.  But I'm not asking for that kind of expert opinion at the moment. I read the unadorned words, feeling them as I would the ridges on a fossil bivalve. They call back the long forgotten stories but they are also the entrance for me to a deeper story; into a greater narrative, one so big I can't begin to grasp it but merely to flow with it. It is telling me a story that goes back not just to Nebuchadrezzar and Ezekiel, but further - back even to the shallow sea where Raglan now stands. And back beyond then to where I can't even imagine its beginning.

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