Job 39 and Psalm 104
Creation Series Year C, Fauna
September 8, 2019
Lincoln Street UMC
Ants are remarkable creatures. Granted, when they are setting up camp on my kitchen counter I am perhaps not quite so appreciative. But really, they are a source of great wonder - and just barely the size of a peppercorn in most cases.
But don’t let their size fool you. Most of you have probably witnessed an ant making off with a crumb from your picnic at some point in your life. But think about what that means to the ant. Many times that crumb is much bigger than the ant. And there the creature goes, lumbering home with that crumb in its jaws. In fact, ants can carry up to 50 times their body weight in their jaws. If we were able to this, we could lift a Hyundai over our heads!
But these creatures aren’t just brutes of force. They are complicated, sophisticated, social creatures. Some species were farming - yes you heard me right - were farming 50 million years ago. Fungus-farming ants developed processes for inhibiting mold growth (by secreting chemicals with antibiotic elements) and processes for fertilization (using manure).
And the Cain and Abel story is alive with ants as other species are known as herders.
Shepherding aphids from plant to plant in order to increase their access to aphids’ sugary secretions.
And all of this doesn’t begin to touch on their complicated social structure. And the ways in which the colony takes on an intellectual capability not predictable from any individual ant. This is the way of the ant. The ant in its natural, instinctive state.
This type of animal knowing and behavior is always so stunning for us this time of year in Portland when you trek downtown to watch the swifts nest for the night in an unused furnace chimney at Chapman Elementary School.
How do they know? How do they know when and how to swarm into that massive, circling flock overhead? Acrobatic feats beyond Barnum and Bailey or Cirque de Soliel.
And then at some moment that seems prescribed from deep within their DNA, they begin to drop into the tower. So orderly, like the best military precision. On the peak night last year there were over 12,000 Vaux swifts that made their nightly nest in that tower. Imagine!
And that’s just it. It’s hard for us to imagine. And that’s the challenge to Job as well. God is essentially saying that we have no idea. There is such complexity and diversity out there. Beyond our wildest imaginings.
We can appreciate and seek to understand the creatures we share this planet with. But we are not the ones to imprint upon them each creature’s instinctive way.
Sometimes a newborn needs to be taught a piece of their practice. Chicks eventually are nudged out of the nest and encouraged to fly. Small cubs begin to learn the art of hunting. But the manner in which each animal finds its way in the world, that is something etched deep within. It is their way.
Perhaps that sounds familiar to you? In the gospel of John Christ says “I am the way.” For years I have understood this as the life of Jesus indicating to us how we are to live. The way we are to live. Like the Camino de Santiago - the path, the way to Santiago - there is a specific route one takes in order to reach the end successfully. One follows the arrows, the indicators, along the way so you don’t get lost.
So the words from this gospel have always rung in my ears as Jesus saying, this is the route you follow, this is what you need to do in order to be good, this is your duty as a good Christian - follow this way.
But what if, what if there’s something else going on here? What if we were to hear these words not from the particular Jesus of Nazareth, but rather as words of the Christ - that universal, timeless presence that was at the beginning of creation, was and is and always will be?
When we understand these words to be by and about Christ, then another invitation opens up here. Then, this is not about a roster of duties and obligations, but rather the way - the way of life.
What if these words remind us that Christ is the way imbedded deep in our DNA? That somehow it functions in each of us, like the innate patterns of the ant, and swift.
The Christ instinct is our way. It is what powers our yearnings, our senses, our patterns of relationships. It is what spins our moral compass, drives our efforts and comforts our inner child.
When the Christ tells us I am the way, we are being reminded that deep within us is the natural instinct to be God’s children. That there is nothing counter-intuitive that we have to strive after.
But if we let our natural state, if we relax the ego - to use other language - then the God-ness of each of us is what fuels us each day.
And that then frees us to see the way in each of us. And see the way in all living creatures.
Pause a moment. Can you sense that in yourself? Can you offer yourself enough grace to have room for that possibility?
That you are born with God’s way, of love, hope, and faith - deep within you. It is your natural, instinctive way. (Pause)
This way is our way. Christ imbedded in each one of us. So that we can carry more than we thought possible, soar with knowledge, and love with a tenderness we didn’t know we had in us.
This is the way. This is our way. Christ’s way - our DNA. Embedded. Instinctual. Birth-given.
Job 39 and Psalm 104, Creation Series Year C, Fauna, E. Winslea, 9.8.19, Page