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Seeding Stardust

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“I am star dust condensed in human form” is a phrase that I use often in my bios and was the inspiration for an invitation to write this essay.[1] I began embracing this grander sense of self back in 2001 when I met Joanna Macy at the State of the Possible Retreats, but not writing it into my self-definition publicly until 2008.[2] At this time, I was invited as a featured artist to post some of my photographs to the website “Public Republic” hosted in Bulgaria.

Hubble Space Telescope showing remnants of a massive star supernova that exploded about 8,000 years ago

On this site I wrote:

Who is Jim Embry?
Star dust, congealed in this current form. I represent the millions of years of evolution. We inherit only the small things from our parents. The much profound essence of who we are has been in the making for millions of years. I am an evolutionary being who also tries to contribute to the conscious turning of what it means to be human, as we, humans, we are still at the childhood stage. At the same time, I am an embodiment of the more immediate presence of my ancestors, who were social change agents for racial equality.[3]

These words, emerging from many inspirational sources, quilted together into the tapestry of a flying carpet, allowing me to ever connect with—and fly back and forth between—past, present, and future. These journeys allowed me to: relate with microbes in the soil on our farm and with the Milky Way soaring above; to converse with the tomato plants of my garden and with the distant planets of the Universe; to touch black soil pooped out by red worms in my compost bin, while also paying homage to black holes and dark matter.

I began to understand that the written and verbal conversations with those who inspire us fill in the gaps in the stories we hold—the gaps we see when we look at the night sky and when we look at each other. I can look at another person and say that you are a collection of quarks and electrons. And I am also a collection of quarks and electrons, arranged somewhat differently. When I look at the sky to enjoy and wonder about it, I am doing something my ancestors did. With each such experience, I embrace the knowing of new information that adds to our practices of being present with both the living and with our ancestors, who made us all possible.[4]

So, from a quantum sense (the energies of the Cosmos’ quarks and electrons), I feel I have been drawn into the social justice work I do by these ancestral vibrations, arising long before I was born. I had three great-grandfathers who fought in the Civil War for their own freedom, the freedom of all the other enslaved Africans, and for the re-unification of the divided states of the USA. As an activist coming from five generations of agrarian intellectual activists, this phrase about being stardust connects me very personally and directly with Dr. King’s pronouncement that “the Moral Arc of the Universe bends toward Justice.” I mean—what a profound, simple yet deeply connecting statement that links the far-flung Universe with the various Earthly “isms” of injustice.

Having been involved in the social justice movements of the past sixty years, I consider my statement of being stardust as a revolutionary and an evolutionary proclamation and as a way of thinking and being. I use this concept in ways that enlarge my personal life mission to serve as a vortex of change in this Great Turning that friends Joanna Macy and David Korten have written about. This paradigm shift or Great Turning concept corresponds with this “moral arc of the Universe curving towards justice” concept. 

I am simply part of this human saga—a saga that’s at least 6 million years old—of human beings continually trying to better understand what it means to be human. On our Earth’s planetary level, I consider that we humans are still evolving as a species. We are still maturing, seeking understanding, trying to figure out how to live in rhythm and right relationship with all other humans and all other members of our Earth family. It is my diagnosis that we are still trying to understand what it means to be civilized as a human species. We can’t truly say we are really civilized as long as we continue to do violence and harm towards women who we all come through; as long as we are polluting and devastating the air, water, and soil that are all essential to life; as long as we are acting as aggressive predators towards other life forms; then we are not yet civilized, but instead still seeking the rights of passage to species maturation. The Cosmos beckons and has prepared us to seek this fulfillment at the species level.

I believe that our work of nurturing our maturation process needs to be forged with meaningful inter-human and inter-ecological, as well as inter-stellar, collaborations and understandings. It is clear to me that we need guidance to pave our pathway into the future, helping us break the five hundred-year-old stranglehold by an industrial growth society, which is guided by an ever distancing from Earth-as-Mother world view—being satisfied with our homo-centric worldview instead. What we need is a set of principles—system of values—along with new narratives that allow us to fall back in love with Earth while extending our awe and awareness of and relationship to the Cosmos. 

There have been numerous people and books that have inspired and instructed me and filled on the gaps along this journey. I am excited to share these guideposts, but also anxious to share, realizing that I don’t have the space to mention all of these influences on my continuing exploration and expansion.

The Universe Story as book names and themes of expression articulated by Thomas Berry, Joanna Macy, Brian Swimme, Mary Evelyn Tucker have become essential ingredients in the pot of gumbo that nourishes my personal and yet ever-evolving understanding of cosmological connection.[5] Having feasted on the many books, films, and presentations by these authors and having developed caring friendships with Joanna and Mary Evelyn, Thomas Berry’s the Great Work is the one that I place on the table when doing presentations and lift up as a way of giving the audience some definition to my personal journey and hopefully inspiration for their own journey.[6] [7]

George Washington Carver, one of America’s most prolific scientist who spent 45 years at Tuskegee Institute is not generally thought of as someone with an interest in the Cosmos but focused solely on the peanut growing in the Alabama soil. Without a doubt Carver’s work was focused on improving the black soil depleted by cotton and educating the Black souls recently freed from bondage, but who were still impacted by various forms of racial oppression. Over the past eight years, I have sought to dig deeper into the life of Carver and allow his ancestral vibrations to permeate my farming practices as well as my verbal and written explorations of meaning for this great work. My research has led me into what feels like a buried pyramid of treasures waiting to be un-mummified and returned to practical application. And, as I have discovered my own family’s close connections with Carver, my love for his contributions seems to continually overflow the vessels that I thought would hold his teachings.[8] As a child, his first great love was for flowers and plants which served as his playmates. As an adult and professor at Tuskegee, he would begin each morning before sunrise in his garden asking the flowers and plants to reveal their secrets to him so he could examine them in his laboratory and make useful products that would help heal and fortify his community. He wore a flower on his suit jacket most everyday as an expression of his love and deep connection with flowers. His painting of flowers won an award at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. This quote by Carver provides a glimpse into his cosmological understanding while also providing for us a clear example of connecting and seeing the Universe within everything around us:

“When I touch that flower, I am not merely touching that flower. I am touching infinity. That little flower existed long before there were human beings on this Earth. It will continue to exist for thousands, yes, millions of years to come.” [9]

This kind of awareness and loving sensibility of Nature and Cosmos is what is needed as we strive to undo so much of our human created ecological devastation. 

Other important big-ideas that arose from the State of the Possible retreats were embodied in the book Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently that provided a point of breakthrough when we got very stuck in our discussion of race and oppression at the gathering.[10]  Race and the Cosmos challenged white supremacy and the cult of whiteness, the failure of Liberation Theology, our persistent equation of light with good and dark with evil, and the acceptance of reason/logic and Western scientific methods as superior to intuitive Indigenous practices for obtaining knowledge. For many years, I have studied Indigenous cultures here on Turtle Island and the Americas, in Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and recently, New Zealand. These ancient and still-inspiring Indigenous cosmologies have been important to my understanding and are essential in our global reckoning. My continuing journey is to create an even greater synthesis of quantum science with Indigenous cosmologies and practices.

What I am reading now is The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. As a Black feminist physicist who studies quantum-gravity worlds, in her book Chanda shows how science, like most fields, is rife with racism, sexism, and other dehumanizing systems, examines the racist contours of scientific knowledge and language, lifts up the liberatory inventions of Black scientists, shows how identificatory politics and physics are entangled, and how this entanglement might, and can, reorient how we care for the planet and for each other. She lays out a bold new approach to science and society that begins with the belief that we all have a fundamental right to know and love the night sky. The Disordered Cosmos dreams into existence a world that allows everyone to experience and understand the wonders of the Universe. I share this dream that has been deferred too long.

Now I knew when I began this essay I would run out of room and time, but such is the nature of the Cosmos that is condensed in my human form. Much cosmic love to all!

[1] Email dated April 2, 2021 “I noticed you on the Biodynamic Association website and was taken by your bio info: “he considers himself stardust condensed in human form.” Your unique perspectives on the Cosmos would be invaluable to the Center’s discussion. And I would love to share your reflections on this question with our community.”

[2]  Frances Korten and Roberto Vargas, Movement Building for Transformational Change (Bainbridge Island, WA:The Positive Futures Network, 2006), www.yesmagazine.org/pdf/Korten&Vargasprinter.pdf.  “Joanna Macy and the Great Turning,” Video Project, 2018, https://www.videoproject.com/Joanna-Macy-and-the-Great-Turning.html.

[4] I have an essay in the new book, We Are Each Other’s Harvest, titled Ancestral Vibrations Guide our Connections to the Land, http://www.sustainlex.org/Embry_WeAreEachOther%27sHarvest_uneditedversion.pdf 

[5] Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry, The Universe Story. (San Francisco: Harper, 1994).

[6] Thomas Berry, The Great Work (New York, USA: Three Rivers Press, 1999).

[7] In their efforts to diversify the Biodynamic Association Conference held in Portland, OR, I was invited to write the lead article for the journal, a blog for the website, give presentations during the conference and help bring other People of Color to the conference and association family. “Transforming the Heart of Agriculture”, Biodynamics, Fall 2018; “Cup of Carver: George Washington Carver and the Biodynamic Movement”, https://www.biodynamics.com/blog/cup-carver-george-washington-carver-and-biodynamic-movement;  “Biodynamics, Indigeneity and Social Justice”, https://youtu.be/qFGB5TvfPOk

My essay in the 2018 Biodynamics journal summarized the Great Work in this manner: “The central premise of the Great Work is that the human and other components of Earth form a single community of life. Every mode of being has inherent rights to their place in this community, rights that come from existence itself. The intimacy of humans with the other components of the planet is the fulfillment of each in the other and all within the single Earth community. The Great Work is a spiritual fulfillment and commitment that should guide our economic, educational and cultural aspirationsIt is a commitment, not simply a way of survival, to being very present in the moment when we witness the dying of the Earth in its Cenozoic expression and the life renewal of the Earth in an emerging Ecozoic Era. This renewal or regeneration of the Earth, under its current conditions, gives us a special urgency to regain our sense of the sacred in any sphere of human activity. We will recover our sense of wonder and our sense of the sacred only if we appreciate the universe story beyond ourselves, as a revelatory experience of that numinous presence whence all things come into being. Indeed, the universe is the primary sacred reality. We become sacred by our participation in this more sublime dimension of the world about us. Quantum science and traditional religious traditions now together teach us that the universe carries within itself the norm of authenticity of every spiritual as well as every physical activity within it.” 

[8] https://www.biodynamics.com/blog/cup-carver-george-washington-carver-and-biodynamic-movement;  George Washington Carver and the Nature Study Movement and Its Relevance Today by Jim Embry. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqwRK1LvM6c. 

[9] Glenn Clark, The man who talks with the flowers; the intimate life story of Dr. George Washington Carver, page 27. (Eastford, CT:Martino Fine Books, 1939).

[10] Barbara Holmes, Race and the Cosmos: An Invitation to View the World Differently (Harrisburg, PA:Trinity Press, 2002).


Image credits:

Hubble Space Telescope showing remnants of a massive star supernova that exploded about 8,000 years ago. © NASA/ESA/HHT

Butterfly on Zinnia, by Jim Embry

Moon over Jim Embry’s farm, by Jim Embry 

 George Washington Carver painting in field of plants, by Ericka Lugo

 George Washington Carver wearing a flower, which he did most every day.

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  • Jim Embry

    Jim Embry considers himself Stardust condensed in human form that represents billions of years of Earth’s evolution. As an evolutionary being, his purpose is to contribute to a paradigm shift towards Sacred Earth consciousness and refers to himself as a Sacred Earth Activist.

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