Hope for regeneration in all of its forms

Maybe his name — Lonesome George — is what got me. The giant tortoise died on Galapagos Island June 24 at the age of about 100. He was the last of his kind.

Repeated attempts failed to help George reproduce. (How did they do that, anyway?) The bigger news is that scientific efforts are now underway to “resurrect” or “revive” his tortoise species by a complex method of crossbreeding with 17 other tortoises that contain genetic material similar to George’s. Over the next 100-150 years, experts will take DNA samples of the crossbred tortoises to examine which ones to breed next that will continue to wash the genetic code of all but George’s unique markers. They believe they will eventually be able to produce again a 100 percent pure species that had gone extinct with the death of Lonesome George.

What spiritual sense to make of this Jurassic Park-like news?

First, since humans are made in the image and likeness of the God, the very desire to renew a tortoise species says something about God’s desires, too. We desire life ourselves, and we desire to preserve and revive life in all things. For all the questions we have about death and how a God of life could create a world in which loss is such a part, the implanted yearning for life tips us toward meaning when everything seems otherwise futile.

Next, God has given us the capacity to know the world and how it works, thus making possible such a remarkable Lonesome George resurrection-project. People of faith believe that to learn something is always to be taught something. We discover only what is revealed. God makes known the secrets of life to us and delights in our knowledge — and especially in our responsible use of it.

Then, think of this: If we have such an interest in an obscure Pinta Island tortoise subspecies and will patiently work for a century and a half to see it fully renewed, doesn’t this gesture toward a God who is passionately, persistently and patiently at work to renew all of creation rather than destroy it or see it pass away forever? Some forms of faith see hope only for human spirits fleeing the body to safety in a place called heaven. Biblical faith conjures a new heaven and a new earth in which creation is altogether redeemed.

Last, we’ve just come off the Christmas season that speaks of God becoming a man via the willing womb of the Virgin Mary. The biology of that theology may always elude us, and maybe the mystery of it makes it all the more marvelous. But somehow Lonesome George’s case makes me think of St. Paul’s claim that Christ is the Second Adam, the beginning of a new humanity. Jesus’ life marked the rebirth of God’s original project of creation. He succeeded where the First Adam and all his descendants failed. And now we are invited to participate by faith and works in the eternal life of God through the Second Adam.

The word “regeneration” has gene at its root. To be regenerated then might be to experience the divine work of washing away of all that is dying in us, so that we might be born again. A new you in the New Year?

R.I.P. for now, Lonesome George.