"Adult-like Wonder" (Chris Searles)
I wrote a bit about the “miracles of small things" in the intro to this month’s issue of AllCreation.org. I’m not clergy, not even close, but I do know everything I ever learned about good values, faith and spirituality came from two domains during my childhood: 1) adults “walking the walk” and 2) experiences in nature.
As a nine year old I was lucky enough to spend a week backpacking across New Mexico with my Dad and a family friend. I still vividly remember quite a few things from that trip: the drive, the backpacks, the long walks, the meadows and freshly-caught fish, the flowers, the tree bark, the rushing clear-water streams and their smell, the fresh air, the crisp mornings and snow capped mountains.
I didn’t know it then, but more of me was energized by that experience, and at a deeper level, than by any other experiences of that year. Nearly three decades later those memories are clear. In part, I think, because of the total engagement of being surrounded by a reality far bigger than I had ever previously known. I was fulfilled -- from the outside in. However, I digress. This is a story about a dear friend, the inspiring Rev. Felix Malpica, who recently poked fun at me in front of his entire congregation for being blown-away by a caterpillar.
So here's my explanation... We’re taught that nature doesn’t matter. That insects are GROSS. That the best things in life come from material wealth and manmade things, and yet – who on Earth can make one of these?
--- A living, breathing, self-sustaining, self-directing, self-replicating organism of extremely sophisticated cellular and biological 'technology.' The detail and color and independence of this “Virginian Tiger” (poisonous by the way) are just mind blowing. I was transfixed.
So, to clarify -- what my buddy Felix described as “childlike wonder” was actually pure amazement. I stood there in the beautiful community garden at his church thinking for a moment of all the model ships I tried to build as a nine year old. Not. Good! Then I thought of all the professional models I’d ever seen, from Star Wars to soap box derbies. No comparison. And nanotechnology. No comparison. Then I thought of how quickly this little living thing comes into being, literally out of nothingness. What animates it in the first place? Why does it grow the way it does? Its spirit is evident, its story a miracle. This “wonder” perspective permeates my consciousness all the time.
When you think about it the miracle of life is so far beyond reason and so exciting. Everytime I see a tree I think, “that thing grew out of nothingness, with only sunlight, soil, moisture, and air.” We tend to think of physical growth in human terms but a lot of living things have very different “eating habits." Trees, for instance, essentially get their food through the air, consuming pollutants like Carbon Dioxide, hanging onto the Carbon and releasing most of the Oxygen.
Then, staring at that little caterpillar, I thought about all the various stages of life it would pass through in a matter of weeks and how that relates to my own. Then I wondered what symbiotic purposes this caterpillar served. The thing to know about biodiversity is that it’s not just a pretty idea. Biological diversity is what powers our ecosystems’ productivity, and "ecosystems" are our life support systems. Without wild biodiversity they shut down.
Meanwhile, Felix might have been just a little bit worried.
Our focus this month on AllCreation.org is to explore the innate connection all people seem to have to “Nature," aka. the Creation. We are more fulfilled in a positive, enjoyable outdoor setting than in any other setting, it seems. Whether child or adult, once a person learns to appreciate the small things in nature, the living things all around them, that person becomes more engaged and more fulfilled on their own terms. This fulfillment takes place regardless of age or ability or faith or background, making life – Earth’s extremely threatened biodiversity, all the more important and exciting.
-- Chris Searles