Australian apologist JOHN SMITH explains how a famous incident concerning washed up starfish shows us a great deal.

John Smith
John Smith

A while back The Age published a front-page report on the attitudes of young people around the world towards life and the future. Perhaps predictably, the overall tone was depressing and negative. Yet negativity is something that was once associated with later life. Although we now refer to teenage angst or the "angry young man", we used to more commonly recognise the image of the bitter old man or woman who felt that life had passed them by. There was a recognition that life's expectations often did not match life's experiences or rewards in the mature years. However we now live in an era in which disillusionment sets in too early and far too often.

Some of us believe that this negativity is promoted by a secular, soulless worldview. I recently read a story, which lifts the spirit beyond the extremes of groundless optimism and meaningless despair, to one of hope in the midst of life's contradictions. Parker Palmer gives the following account about the great naturalist Loren Eiseley. "(Eiseley) once spent time in a seaside town called Costabel and, plagued by his lifelong insomnia, (he) spent the early morning hours walking the beach. Each day at sunrise he found towns people combing the sand for starfish which had washed ashore during the night, to kill them for commercial purposes. It was, for Eiseley, a sign, however small, of all the ways the world says no to life. But one morning Eiseley got up unusually early and discovered a solitary figure on the beach. This man, too, was gathering starfish, but each time he found one alive he would pick it up and throw it as far as he could out beyond the breaking surf, back to the nurturing ocean from which it came. As days went by Eiseley found this man embarked on his mission of mercy each morning, seven days a week, no matter the weather.

"Eiseley named this man 'the star thrower' and in a moving meditation he writes of how this man and his predawn work contradicted everything that Eiseley had been taught about evolution and the survival of the fittest. Here on the beach in Costabel the strong reached down to save, not crush, the weak. And Eiseley wonders: is there a star thrower at work in the universe, a God who contradicts death, a God whose nature (in the words of Thomas Merton) is 'mercy within mercy within mercy'?"

That story is rich in meaning. It offers an image of a God who threw the stars and throws them still. It speaks of how men and women can participate in God's enveloping mercy. It suggests a vocation that each of us could undertake. We need not only to be aware of the social and ecological dangers of our age. We need also to celebrate those moments, stories and people who contradict every denial of life and hope. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.