I Remember Lemuria
The Reverend Seth Ethan Carey
April 19, 2009
First Congregational Church,
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
1The words of the Teacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 2Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. 3What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?
4A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. 5The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. 6The wind blows to the south, and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. 7All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow. 8All things are wearisome; more than one can express; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing.
9What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun. 10Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been, in the ages before us.
11The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.
My earliest memory is but a dream. I am very young—less than a year old, I think. My infantile heart beats softly, and my brain is little more than a quivering pudding of unrealized potential. When I sleep, I dream. In my nocturnal visions, I escape the confines of my cradle. I drift toward the ceiling like a balloon. I am filled with helium and wonder as I rise from my pillow, my eyes adjusting to the darkness of my nursery. My toys and teddy bears are scattered about the floor and I leave them behind without regret as I float towards higher things. And like a cherub angel, I swim through the air.
Hovering up there like something from a storybook, I feel very safe. While I don’t know it at first, the speed of my voyage through the air is slowly increasing. By the time I realize that I have lost control, it is too late to stop. I collide with the farm animals on my nursery wallpaper, and I fall to the floor like a stone.
I awake in the safety and warmth of my cradle. I am crying, but not because I have suffered a bad dream. I cry because I know that my dream is a metaphor for the rise and fall of every great civilization.
I was a very smart baby.
Memory is a funny thing. You might think it strange that I can recall a memory from so early in my life, when I can’t even remember what I had for dinner last night—or why I woke up this morning in the trunk of my car. I remember other things, too. Sometimes, when I look at a particular building or a certain painting, sometimes when the light is just right and the sunset bathes the world in colors, I am overwhelmed by a powerful sense of nostalgia. It’s not the same nostalgia I feel when I see photographs from my childhood. It is much, much older. It’s as though a part of me is remembering something from the dawn of human history.
Perhaps this is what psychologist Carl Jung called the collective unconscious. Jung believed that all human beings share a common ancestral memory, what one researcher calls “a reservoir of the experiences of our species.” That ancient memory stretches back well beyond the history books, into that forgotten world that gave rise to the myths of every civilization.
Somewhere deep down, chiseled in my DNA, I think a part of me remembers that world. Down in the marrow of my bones, I remember Lemuria.
Lemuria, along with Hyperborea and Atlantis, is one of the legendary “lost continents” of prehistory. Most will tell you that Lemuria is a product of the 19th century imagination, and you would be hard pressed to find a modern scientist of any credibility that will acknowledge its existence.
Before the discovery of tectonic plates and continental drift, many geologists and evolutionary theorists believed that enormous land masses once bridged the continents, but that once upon a time these ancient lands sank beneath the ocean. Lemuria is one of these hypothetical continents, and it is believed to have covered much of what is now the Pacific Ocean, stretching all the way from Australia to Hawaii to Japan, 800,000 years before the dawn of recorded history. Of course, once the scientific community realized that continents don’t just sink into the ocean, they abandoned Lemuria to the realms of myth.
But she was not forgotten.
In 1888, a wandering psychic named Helena Blavatsky penned her influential magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, a four-volume text of esoteric knowledge. In the second volume she wrote of Lemuria, introducing it into the occult imagination where it would live on in legend.
In the minds of those who have embellished her story, Lemuria was an ancient Eden of natural beauty—a land of vast mountain ranges and fields of green, burning deserts and blue water. The people who lived there were beautiful, intelligent, and spiritually pure—the earliest evolved homo sapiens. But according to Blavatsky, the continent was also home to a race of lizard-men, reptilians that corrupted the humans with their practice of black magic. Sounds kind of like the story of Eve and the Serpent, doesn’t it? Or maybe a bad 1950’s pulp novel.
The stories of Lemuria’s doom are many, but most agree that her inhabitants sealed their own fate. Whether their corruption angered God or they destroyed themselves with their own technology, no one is certain. Whatever the cause, on one fateful night Lemuria sank beneath the waves forever.
Like any other myth, the legends of this lost continent probably shouldn’t be taken too literally. But in the mythic sense, Lemuria is a true story. It is the story of a civilization that destroyed itself, the story of a land that sank beneath the sea. If what environmental scientists are saying these days is true, then God-forbid, it could be our story, too.
Remember the words of Ecclesiastes:
“Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has already been in the ages before us. The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come, by those who come after them.”
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it. Even if Lemuria never existed, the lesson that it teaches us is very real. If as a species we don’t correct our course and reject the destructive behaviors of the industrial age, then we may suffer a similar fate. Carbon emissions will continue to warp the atmosphere. The planet will cook like an egg on a skillet, ice caps will melt, sea levels will rise, and by the end of the century our coastline will be buried beneath twenty feet of water. Fortunately, we don’t have to contend with any evil lizard-people. Thank God for small favors.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. What if I told you that the Earth isn’t in any danger at all? Well, it isn’t. We could launch a thousand nuclear missiles in every direction and cover the planet in radiation and fallout and nuclear winter, and in a billion years the Earth would be as good as new. The Earth and its cockroaches would survive, but all of us would be dead. Or, we could pump the atmosphere with enough greenhouse gasses to boil the oceans. We wouldn’t survive, but the earth isn’t going anywhere. Short of the sun exploding or an act of God, there is no conceivable catastrophe cataclysmic enough to destroy the planet. The Bible says it best: “A generation comes, and a generation goes. But the Earth remains forever.”
We are the ones in danger. It’s arrogant to think that we can destroy this world, or save it. As a species, we only have enough power to destroy ourselves. By wrecking the environment, that’s precisely what we’re doing. We can’t kill the Earth, but we’ve wounded it badly enough to strike back. Like an innocent child, we’ve abused her. Sometimes I think that maybe Earth would be better off without us.
I believe that God sees things very differently. You see, humanity and the Earth—both of us are God’s children. God created us, and God created this planet. We’re kind of like siblings that just can’t seem to get along. God loves us both, and God isn’t willing to let either one of us perish—not even if it means saving the other. God put us here, and we have the right to survive.
On a radio program I heard last week, the host was asking listeners to call in with their answer to one simple question: If we believe the environmental crisis is as serious as experts say it is, then why don’t we care? Why don’t we care? People phoned in with some pretty honest answers. One man said that he feels like it’s already too late to do anything about it. Others said that the problem is still too distant, that the effects of global warming are a problem for future generations, that it’s hard to get worked up about something that won’t happen for another sixty or seventy years. I don’t think this is a fair question. Sure, some people don’t care much about the environment. My wife likes to joke that it’s OK to spit gum on the ground because, as she is fond of saying, “The birds will eat it.” In all seriousness, if no one cared about the environment then our society wouldn’t be doing so much to repair the damage we’ve done. We wouldn’t be exploring alternate energy sources or building electric cars. We wouldn’t be handing out tax credits for green building renovations or pushing for climate-change legislation. We are, but we’ve still got a long way to go. We’re getting there one day at a time.
People aren’t all bad. We’ve made a lot of mistakes and we’re still making them. We’re learning from those mistakes, and that’s what matters most. I only hope we can learn our lesson before it’s too late.
His hands still shake when he remembers what happened that day at sea. Twelve years ago, Captain Charles J. Moore was returning home to Los Angeles from the annual Transpacific Yacht Race. One sunny afternoon a member of his crew spotted something strange on the horizon of the Pacific Ocean. To his eyes it looked for all the world like land, but their charts showed nothing. Whatever it was, it wasn’t on any map. The Captain ordered the crew to change course to bring them closer to this undiscovered country, his curiosity piqued and his imagination ran wild. The ocean breeze hinted of a foul stench in the air, but that only intrigued him more. Little did he realize that it was a harbinger of the horror to come.
Then it was upon them. As they beached upon its rotting shore, the Captain knew that this was no uncharted island, no lost continent. This was no Atlantis, no Lemuria. This was a land cursed, born from the wreckage of all humanity. A plastic soup of Chinese soda bottles, long-forgotten children’s toys, gasoline jugs, and aluminum cans crunched beneath the bow of his ship as the Captain gazed upon the alien landscape and trembled. The corpses of seagulls and albatross littered the ground, their decay revealing the plastic bottle-caps that had been their last meal.
He had just steered his ship into a vortex of garbage and refuse that would later prove to be twice the size of the continental United States. Somewhere beyond that stinking isle of trash, buried at sea, there lies something to really chill the bones.
Off the southern coast of Japan, beneath the waves, lie the ruins of a mysterious city. Some researchers have claimed these underwater formations are natural in origin, but were silenced by the discovery of massive arches and gateways, paved streets and circular staircases leading to plazas and enigmatic towers. These once-proud avenues of prehistoric origin now lie sunken in a world of blue.
We will never know who walked her streets, whether they were good people or bad. All that remains to testify to their existence is the place they once called home, buried beneath a hundred feet of water.
Someday, all of us will be gone. That is the fate of every great civilization. As the scriptures declare, a generation comes, and a generation goes, but the earth remains forever. It falls to us to decide what kind of earth we will leave to those yet to be born. Perhaps we will we fall as Lemuria did, drowning beneath the waves. Maybe a continent of floating garbage is all that will be left of our legacy—an epitaph etched in human waste.
Or we can leave our children the world that we inherited—flawed, but beautiful. We can’t restore our world to its virgin purity, not in our lifetime. However, we can change course and begin the work of preserving our species. We can begin the God-given task, and leave what we’ve accomplished to the next generation. They can take what we’ve learned and accomplished and pass it on to the next generation, and the next, and the next.
It begins with us. It doesn’t end until the world we know is gone, or until all the world is green.