Spirit Quest on living in hope

Spirit Quest

There is hope but we must want to live in hope

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective 

As a teenager I was an amateur lepidopterist .... Ok, a butterfly and moth collector. With my net I swept the grassy fields and flower beds, and sat expectantly under the porch light on a warm summer evening waiting for my prey. I sorted out my catch and consigned some to my death bottle, a jar containing cotton batten soaked in ammonia. When dead I carefully removed the creatures and did the mortician’s thing, preparing them for display. I spread their wings on a stretching board and, when dried into position, I administered the coup de grace, thrusting a long needle through their tiny bodies, pinning them into a display case.

My prize possession was a beautiful large luna moth. Its long tailed wings were pale green with one eye spot on each wing. There were other large moths, the polyphemus and cecropia. Among the butterflies I had a variety of swallowtails, the much travelled monarch and its mimic the smaller but bitter tasting viceroy. There were many other species as well as insects, grasshoppers, water beetles, praying mantis and walking sticks. I was fascinated by them all and it’s a wonder I did not study to become a biologist. Instead I became a theologian.

On a recent visit to Niagara Falls — no I did not go to see Nik Wallenda do his stunt high above the falls — rather I visited the Butterfly Gallery. In a large greenhouse full of plants and shrubs, ponds and waterfalls all sorts of butterflies fluttered by. The most spectacular was the blue morpho, not a native of Canada. As a matter of fact the whole population of this pavillion were from abroad.

The blue morpho’s wings are a vivid blue on one side but light brown with large eyes on the other. (See my photo of the butterfly perching on a rock.) They were not shy at all . Some came and sat on their visitors’ arms and heads.

Its home is Costa Rica. Years ago, when my son was teaching in the highlands of that beautiful country, I encountered literally millions of them gathering to rise up over the mountains to make their journey to the eastern side of the country. At the Gallery I recognized them right away. Their chrysalides are flown to Canada and incubated at the Gallery.

Butterflies, moths, and indeed the entire insect population, make a powerful argument against evolution. One is tempted to ask how can such beauty, adaptability and order speak of anything but a superior intelligence?  I have often wondered whether 6 billion years is long enough for life to evolve from that Big Bang that created time and space and butterflies. Creation is a miracle in progress ... eternally.

My parents were lapsed Christians, father and mother had both found their respective churches too narrow and conservative for their progressive ideas. As a child they enrolled me in an atheist Sunday School where I learned all about evolution. Our teacher was a wonderful illustrator drawing pictures of cavedwellers and their tools and weapons. I was enthralled by his telling about the domestication of fire. The biblical story of creation that I learned about later was no match for that wondrous odyssey .

Creation is both beautiful and awe inspiring. I am filled with a sense of anger as I observe humans dealing roughly with creation. Whole species are disappearing and many more are on the endangered list. Oceans, the very source of life from which our species first emerged, has become a garbage dump. Coral beds are turning white and crumbling.
We  humans have been less than kind in our treatment of nature. Our refusal to accept our role in global warming speaks of an overwhelming ideology that puts wealth above all else.

Our present government is complicit in this attack on nature, stilling the voices of scientists and past ministers of the environment, even Conservatives. It is afraid to take their findings seriously lest it gets in the way of growth.

Jeff Rubin in his recent book The End of Growth, predicts that a bigger, longer economic crash than the one that hit us in 2008 will soon be upon us. His is not a negative thesis. He believes that less can actually be more. Consumption doesn’t guarantee happiness. When economies don’t grow, he maintains, we won’t burn as many hydrocarbons which means that the world may avoid the worst forecasts for global warming. Thus many of the species on death row may find reprieve. But will it be in time?

Chris Hedges, student of religion (Harvard Divinity School) turned foreign correspondent, (New York Times etc)  in his most recent book: Days of Destruction - Days of Revolt, writes what life looks like in places where the marketplace rules without constraint, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize earrnings.

“That vaunted dream,” also of our prime minister, “that life will get better, that progress is inevitable, if we obey the rules and work hard, that material prosperity is assured, has been replaced by hard and bitter truth.”

“We can still shape the future we want,” Jeff Rubin concludes,”but only if we are willing to relinquish the past that we have known.”

I began by marveling about butterflies and moths, their beauty and their importance to ecology. Their liveliness in the Gallery gives me hope. I believe that they are possessed of a spirit that unites all of life.

Bishop Desmond Tutu who was the spiritual force behind the struggle against apartheid in South Africa  stated that “Without us, God won’t, Without God, we can’t.” In other words, there won’t be any miracles unless we are willing to participate in them. And alone we can’t perform any of them. There is hope but we must want to live in hope.

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