Click here to read a testimony on God’s wisdom and power revealed in relationships with animals, offered in worship by Brooks Fowler.
A few months ago I was walking in a labyrinth, taking each mindful step, allowing my mind to wander and wonder… when my eye caught this little fly sitting on a rock. I stopped (because I wasn’t really headed anywhere) and watched the fly for a while. When I looked closer I saw that its body was green and purple and shiny, its wings were translucent, and it was standing perfectly still.
I began to wonder about the fly’s life. Where did it come from, and where is it headed now? How does it even decide where to fly – it is just following its need for food? And then, what does a fly eat? Why did it stop on this rock? Where was it born (hatched?) and I wonder how long it’s been alive? On and on I imagined about this tiny creature and its little world – until its time on the rock was over, and it suddenly flew away.
Wild animals fascinate me when I stop to wonder about them, probably because my own existence seems anything but wild. I watch nature shows (from the couch) and find myself truly amazed, especially at the thought that these animals existed and go on existing without human intervention – or even without human knowledge. That fly could have lived its whole life, doing its fly thing, and died without my even knowing it, not to mention creatures even bigger or more fantastic…
Watching Planet Earth I learned about the Amur leopard, indigenous to cold regions of southeastern Russia and Northeastern China. It is fluffy and has long legs specially adapted to walk through deep snow. The documentary showed one leopard scavenging for deer, accompanied by her small cub. The Amur leopard is the most critically endangered kind of leopard, and one of the most endangered animals in the world. In 2007, less than 26 wild Amur leopards were estimated to survive.
What threatens the leopard most is encroaching human activity: poaching, degradation of forests, and deer farming. Recently, several development projects have been planned for the region that would seriously threaten the Amur leopard’s survival: a long-distance oil pipeline, an open pit coal mine, and infrastructure related to transportation and tourism, all in the heart of the leopard’s dwindling range. Some of these plans have been postponed or cancelled due to pressure from environmentalists, but still the tension remains: how long will the region be able to avoid the economic pressure to develop? How much lost investment is the survival of this creature worth to the people who live there? Is there room for such a fragile creature in an economy oriented towards profit?
Today’s gospel reading describes a God who provides for God’s creatures. “Look how God feeds the wild animals and clothes the wild plants! How much more will God feed and clothe you!” This text stands in sharp contrast to the parable that comes right before it in the gospel of Luke – that parable of the rich fool who builds bigger and bigger storehouses to hoard his excess grain, but dies before he can enjoy the bounty he has gathered. The text makes clear that in God’s economy, there is no reason to hoard, and no reason to worry. God provides for all our needs.
And how does God feed the ravens? And how does God clothe the lilies?
I’m no biologist, but I know that ravens are part of a larger ecosystem. They are highly intelligent but have little ability to hunt. They depend on other animals to hunt and leave their leftovers for ravens to scavenge, or they may catch smaller animals, or eat cereals, berries, or fruit. In turn, larger birds like owls or eagles depend on ravens as their source of food. Some plants also depend on ravens to disperse their seed over a large distance. This benefits the ravens because it gives them some control over what plants grow where within their habitat. It also benefits the plant, because although plants can do many amazing things, traveling long distances isn’t one of them.
Ravens and lilies are part of an ecosystem of balanced and interdependent relationships with other animals and plants. They do not exist in isolation, but they depend on many other organisms, the whole system functioning together. The energy driving this system is the sun, the ultimate source of all energy that never gets used up. Each creature, in its way, uses that energy for beauty, and life: the lily through its chlorophyll and the raven with its omnivorous resourcefulness.
And are we so different? The reassurance “Do not worry” rings out from the gospel text but echoes empty in our hearing. Our ecosystem is based on self-sufficiency and individualism. We need to provide for ourselves in this system; we know that to fail to do so would mean scarcity or death. Humans’ dependence on other living things has been distorted into negligence and exploitation of other creatures – corporations squeeze them for every drop of profit they can provide us, and when that’s not enough they manipulate their genomes. All the while, we claim ever more and more independence from other creatures, living as though we humans are separate from the natural world: civilized from wild.
In this, our corrupt ecosystem, how are we not to worry? When our reality is that we must find our own food, what does it mean to trust that God will feed us?
God is making an ecosystem for us like the raven’s, one in which we are not alone.
In God’s ecosystem, we live with all creatures in communities of interdependent relationships.
Hunger is defeated in shared tables; nakedness and cold are defeated with togetherness and embrace.
God is making an ecosystem for us like the lily’s, where there is not a limited amount of life that must be hoarded, but there is a radiant source that is everlasting and abundant, enough to give life to all.
Christ invites us to be ones who are striving for that ecosystem.
Invited to prioritize the struggle to birth that ecosystem into reality, over the oppressive worry that it takes to survive in the one we’ve got.
Invited to look beyond the worry that obscures our vision, to see the truth that we’re not so different from ravens and lilies.
There is a place for us, too, in relationships of interdependence. Casting off the worry of this system, we are free to strive for God’s ecosystem, in which worrying no longer even makes sense, because God’s love manifested in our community provides everything we need.