When we moved from inner city Melbourne to regional Victoria, we really noticed the absence of insects. Our garden in Brunswick was dancing with butterflies most of the year, and every shovelful of dirt brought up a mass of worms. Here, there are almost no butterflies and worms are a scarcity. So I’ve planted butterfly-attractors and caterpillar foods, and slowly improved the soil: and I am gradually seeing life return. Still, the absence is striking.
The collapse in rural insects has occurred in my lifetime. When I was a kid, any country drive would mean a revolting splatter on the windscreen: the wipers were constantly employed. These days, I can drive from Warrnambool to Melbourne at dusk and not clean the windscreen at all. The loss of insects and creepy-crawlies is a product of many things: widespread land clearances and habitat destruction; blanket use of pesticides in farms and gardens; a changing climate; light pollution; and more. Global estimates suggest that, over the last fifty years, between 50% and 75% of all flying insects have been lost; many species have been pushed to extinction.
According to our Scriptures, every species has been called into existence by the creator. Each has its own wisdom to offer and each sings a unique hymn of praise to God. Habitat destruction and species loss means the loss of godly wisdom and of voices in the choir. To participate in this loss, or to turn a blind eye while it happens, is a travesty of Biblical faith.
This week, then, I invite you to consider the smallest creatures. Just one will do. Like Jesus who so often went to a wild place to pray, find a spot of wildness in your house or garden: that is, find a wise little thing which has made its home near you. Spend some time prayerfully observing it, and allow God to speak to you through the wisdom of the insect or creepy-crawly. And think, too, about how you might help make a home for God’s smallest creatures: you’ll find some suggestions below.
1. PREPARE: Find a creature to consider: a spider in a high corner; ants on a windowsill; bees in the garden. Make yourself comfortable. Uncross your legs; relax your body; uncomplicate your heart. Ask God to help you surrender to whatever it is that God wants to do in you or say to you today. Breathe slowly and deeply in, then out.
2. READ: Read the following passage aloud at least three times through, slowly. Listen carefully. Notice anything which captures your attention.
Four things are the smallest on the earth,
yet they are the very wisest:
the ants, a people not strong,
who ready their bread in the summer,
the hyraxes, a people not mighty,
who make their homes in the cleft,
the locusts, who have no king,
and march out all in a row,
the spider, who can be caught in the hands,
yet is in the palace of kings. (Proverbs 30:24-28)
3. REFLECT: Now turn your attention to your chosen insect or creepy-crawly. What do you notice? Is the object of your attention solitary or does it exist only in a group? What does it feed on? What drew it to the place where you found it? What surprises or intrigues you about it? What emotions do you feel? What questions are bubbling up? What are you reminded of?
4. RELATE: Now let creation and the Scripture dialogue with one another. How does Scripture illuminate or change how you understand the creature? How does the creature illuminate or change how you understand Scripture? What line would you add to the proverb to describe the wisdom of your insect or creepy-crawly? How do your observations illuminate or change how you understand yourself, or God?
5. RESPOND: Has any other passage, story, phrase or image from Scripture bubbled up in you? Do you have any sense of an invitation from God? Pray about this, and tell God about anything which is emerging. If you feel called to action, ask God to show you/us the next step.
6. REST: When you feel ‘done’, rest awhile. Savour the world, the Word and God’s loving presence. Close with a gesture of thanks to God: perhaps a simple bow. As you prepare to leave this space, if any word, phrase or image persists, let it guide you through the day. Or if nothing in particular arises, remember this:
- Four things are the smallest … yet they are the very wisest.
And if you feel called to make a home for some of God’s smallest creatures, here are some simple ideas: If you haven’t already done so, plant locally indigenous plants in your garden; plant butterfly attractors and caterpillar foods, both local (running postman, kangaroo grass, lomandra longifolia, austral indigo, many of the daisies …) and introduced (marjoram, dill, sunflower, echium – really, any nectar rich non-GM/PBR old fashioned plants). Withhold the pesticides. More broadly, choose foods which are grown without pesticides and reduce your meat consumption. Join a group campaigning for local indigenous council plantings; join and support a friends of or landcare group; and wonder if there are spaces near you which could be rewilded. Even the smallest creatures need a home to feed and breed: can you help provide this?
Last week, I was sitting in my garden feeling miserable when a bee landed on my arm. It began its bath, cleaning first one wing, then the other; one hind leg, then the other; and so on. I sat very still … Fifteen minutes later, the bee was immaculate. It took to the air, making a beeline for the nearest nectar plant. The experience was sweeter than honey; by the end, my heart was dripping with joy. My friends, consider the smallest creatures. It is medicine.
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