Nancy and I are at or near one of those big, happens every decade, birthdays with a zero. For us, it is hard to believe, it is our 80th. To celebrate, we decided to splurge and give each other a bucket list trip. Hers will be later in the year, a river cruise in Eastern Europe, and she invited me along. Mine will be soon, to the Galapagos, and I invited her to go with me but she demurred.

My Christmas gifts were Galapagos themed. One was Jonathan Weiner’s “The Beak of the Finch.” It is a beautiful Pulitzer Prize-winning book telling of the confirmation of Darwin’s hypothesis that led to his theory of evolution.

This book sparks not only my intellect but my spiritual imagination. It begins by introducing us to Peter and Rosemary Grant who, along with their young daughters, began yearly, since 1973, extended stays on the islands of the Galapagos to study the unique and naturally selected 13 species of finches found only there.

Page after page, chapter after chapter, Weiner weaves his narrative through the Grants’ 20th-century studies, Darwin’s journal accounts of his 19th-century visit and his later magnum opus, “On the Origin of the Species.”

The great breakthrough of evolutionary thought is that creation continues and was not one and done at the beginning of time as suggested by literal interpretations of the book of Genesis.

This comes as no surprise or challenge to my faith. I read the Bible as the story of God’s continuing creation in the minds and hearts of believers. Understanding of God’s nature and province evolves in scripture from polytheism to monotheism, from a jealous Divinity to a Love-driven Divinity.

Genesis is a great poetic and reverent proclamation that God is Creator, not that the creation is completed. God’s creative work and call for love and justice on the Earth continue.

Evolution is evidence of one way that call and work are continuing. It is complicated and hard to see at times but God continues life. Weiner tells the story of evidence gained in one unique corner of the Earth showing life’s preservation through adaptation. It is the story of the creation continuing.

My greatest insight into the mystery and majesty of God as creator came to me on a summit in the Sierra Nevada, a tale I told in an earlier column in this newspaper last August. The soul-searing question that led me to an epiphany was, “Where is God’s love in nature’s brutality and death?” I found my insight echoed in Weiner’s account of the Grants’ observation of the terrible drought in the Galapagos Islands in 1977 that decimated the finch population. At its end, dry soil and lava were littered by the bodies of dead birds.

There were 1,400 birds on the island of Daphne Major at the beginning of the drought, 300 at its conclusion.

When the rains finally returned, the Grants and their colleagues found that there were six males to every female. The females took their pick of the many nests built to welcome them. They chose the stronger, larger males but not only that; they chose males whose beaks were best shaped to find seeds during the next drought.

The offspring were changed as will their offspring be in turn. Future generation will be better able to cope with the droughts to come.

So the birds were not simply magnified by the drought; they were reformed and revised. They were changed by their dead. Their beaks were carved by their losses.

Evolution discloses a meaning in death, although the meaning that is like some of the berries that Darwin tasted in the Galapagos, “acid and austere.” As Weiner wrote: “There is a special providence in the fall of the sparrow. Every drought bears fruit. Even death is a seed.”

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be reached at:

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