Oxygen was once a poisonous gas

A friend wrote to me this week excited by a find he had made in the leisure time granted to us by Covid 19.

Source: Oxygen was once a poisonous gas – The Zimbabwean

It was a BBC radio conversation[1] about plants and specifically about photosynthesis.  ‘Did you know’, he wrote, ‘that when life first appeared on earth (perhaps 300 billion years ago), there was no oxygen?  It was plants that learned how to make nourishment for themselves out of water, carbon and sunlight, and oxygen was a toxic waste product which killed off many other kinds of life.

Obviously only plants which also developed an immunity to this new poisonous gas, oxygen, survived; but photosynthesis worked so well that they took over practically the whole of the earth and the seas. Plants transformed the atmosphere, and so almost all the life-forms on earth.  From the point of view of the evolutionary losers, the Oxygen Event was the first and biggest climate-change disaster in the history of the world.  But from those plants developed (virtually) everything that we have now, for all of us depend, directly or indirectly on plants for food and respiration’.

We pause for thought. Oxygen was once a ‘poisonous gas’, the result of plants struggling, and succeeding, to find food to survive. The process – we learnt in form two but perhaps did not get excited about it – was photosynthesis and it gradually transformed our atmosphere and enabled life as we know it. Phew!

There is a question we read on Ascension Day which must have jarred with Jesus even though he knew how slow witted his disciples were. After all he had said and done and all he had endured and suffered, they returned one more time to what should have been by then a worn out subject: ‘Lord, has the time come? Are you going to restore the kingdom of Israel?’ Patiently, he replies, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods … but … you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.’ He said that two thousand years ago and we have made a good deal of progress since. But, like photosynthesis, the transformation takes time – not 300 billion years – but lots of it all the same.

Covid 19 reminds us that something toxic can transform our planet but, unlike with photosynthesis, this time round we are in control. This time we are in the driving seat about what kind of transformation we want. There are many poems and reflections swirling round the net about this. One poem begins:

The earth whispered but you did not hear.

The earth spoke but you did not listen

The earth screamed but you turned her off …

You can imagine how it continues but it makes it clear it is in our hands – both the problem and the solution.

The Ascension is essentially a feast of the rising of humanity, a rising so that we reach the fulfilment of all that is deepest within us.

24 May 2020      Ascension Day         Acts 1:1-11     Eph. 1:17-23               Matt 28:16-20

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b0435jyv