Brother Sun and Praying Mantis

One September day while pulling a few weeds in my garden, I noticed a praying mantis on a flower.

On a nearby bloom, an unsuspecting fly gathered pollen.

As I watched, I saw the praying mantis turn slowly – imperceptibly--- toward the fly.

And then in an instant—snatch!

The fly was dinner.

I stood in awe.

The patience of the mantis as it slowly turned toward the fly

the power of the attack

the speed with which the mantis struck

It left me speechless.

The natural world can inspire wonder.

Mary Oliver catches it in her poem, The Summer Day.

She describes lying on her stomach in a field, watching a grasshopper. She asks:

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

In this poem, big questions become questions of amazing specificity,

in the detail of a simple grasshopper is the reverence and wonder of the universe.

If we slow down enough to notice, we see a beauty and an order that silences

the noise of our busyness and self importance.

We experience creation on its own terms, and it is wild and wonderful.

The prophetic book of Job speaks to this awe inspiring view of creation.

We hear the beginning of the book today, but later the book addresses the natural world.

We hear of the donkey and untamed ox, the ostrich and deer, lion and horse,

and a huge mythical land animal called Behemoth.

In its descriptions of the animals, it is clear that they are wild and free

The earth itself, with its unpredictable weather and the movements of the stars, are independent of humans.

Creation is an object of wonder and awe, and a sign of the glory of the Lord.

It’s why Psalm 148 can call upon the world earth to praise God.

Praise him, sun and moon!

Praise him, you sea monsters and all deeps,

fire and hail, snow and frost!

It’s doesn’t matter that these things are inanimate: just by being, they praise the Lord.

That’s pretty different perspective than I grew up with.

Beyond my pet cat and the vegetable garden out back,

I never really thought that much about the plants and animals, or the earth itself.

It was just a given; I took it for granted.

Everything seems to revolve around my need as a human;

it’s as if the earth was there to service our needs.

And so it made sense to think of the world around us in terms of how much we could extract or use

how we could maximize crop yields without thought to the long term

how we could harness our environment for power or transportation.

But it didn’t take too many decades of that kind of living to cause real problems:

pollution and extinction and climate change

Our human centered living threatens our very existence

not to mention the survival of the other creatures on earth

and the creation itself.

The human centered view was not always so.

St Francis, whom we commemorate this day, wrote his famous Canticle of the Sun

in which he identified elements of creation as his brothers and sisters.

Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and You give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Francis went on to call the Wind and Air brothers, the Moon and Water sisters, and the earth, mother.

In this prayer, it is clear that Francis saw himself as part of a web of creation,

not a dominating force given license to use creation at will.

It is in honor of St Francis’ love of animals that we bless our pets this day.

The animals in our homes are a connection for us to the natural world

the relationship we build with these creatures can sensitize us to our connections to all creation.

As we pray for our pets, we are not doing so as a sentimental gesture

but out of love--a love we share with a fellow creature on this planet--

and as an occasion to reconsider our care for all creation.

One summer day I was awestruck by the power and patience of a single praying mantis.

Whether in our homes or in the wild, the earth’s creatures have much to teach us.

The cosmos is singing a song.

We are but one voice in a myriad of melodies.

It’s a song of praise… can you hear it?

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