Season of Creation: Animal Kin

Skipp Truscott reflects on Job 39:1-12, 26-30; Psalm 104:14-23; and Luke 12:22-31 for the third week in the Season of Creation.

Berta, liana and I often take walks into the country at the edge of Coeur d’Alene, where we commonly see deer and turkeys feeding. It is a special day when we observe a doe nursing her fawn and turkey hens leading their pullets through the tall grass.

In the fall, toms puff up, fan their tail feathers and strut to impress the hens feeding nearby. The hens peck at the ground, looking less than interested in those toms. At the same time does appear bored with the nearby young bucks locking anthers and pushing each other across the field.

I’m sure each of you has witnessed similar scenes – and even expects them to occur regularly. Berta and I do. When we do not see these animals, it seems like the country around us is empty – that something is wrong. We wonder what has happened to them.

These animals bring animacy to the landscape – they quicken it, bring it alive. Animals like dogs and cats do the same to our homes. And they animate us: Lacy needs walking, and Josh needs to be chased off of the kitchen table.

Speaking of being enlivened, on a college field trip, I spied a mamma skunk with three kits bee-bopping across a grassy field. Desiring a picture of them and wanting a better angle, I crawled through the barbed wire fence into the field. I stood up with the camera to my face aimed at the little skunk family, focusing the telephoto. The view screen just stayed blurry…

Dropping the camera to my chest to see what was wrong, I was startled to see mamma skunk was now a half-dozen yards from me and closing fast! She had changed course to run right at me! With a startled yell, I leaped back over the fence and, while looking over my shoulder, I strode quickly back to my classmates – who, by their laughter, thought my antics had been quite humorous. The skunk’s reaction had triggered my animation, which in turn stimulated amination in my classmates. (I still maintain the Momma Skunk started it all!)

People are noticing more and more animals and insects are missing from local environments. These observations are often published in the newspapers. Recently there has been articles on the lack of pollinators, bat die-offs and the same news about animals that build and maintain coral reefs.

Three years ago, there was an article under a large, black title stating: Missing: Nearly 3 Billion Birds That Use To Live in North  America. Last month, in the National Catholic Reporter, was an article titled: With the Planet at a Breaking Point; Pope Urges Decisive Action.

And again, I ask myself, what can I do? What should I do? I’m just one person – and I’m alarmed about the predictions of the climate scientists. I’m especially alarmed now that I have a 1-year-old granddaughter. I want her to grow up marveling at fawns and baby turkeys.

I suspect I’m not the only one here with those fears and desires.

During this year’s Season of Creation, we’re to focus on endangered species. Instead, I’d like to take a broader look at our planet and those that live here – I’d like to include ail our Kin.

Now, where to look for direction of my environmental actions — plus find hope for the future of our planet?

In a sample homily for Animal Sunday the homilist started their homily at a turkey-factory farm – and ended it in a supermarket. There the homilist decided not to purchase a frozen, plastic wrapped turkey but returned to the produce isle.

I salute her decision to eat more vegetarian – but, for me, that conclusion did not go far enough. It did not deal with the impacts of pesticides still being used to grow more produce. Nor did the homily mention Rachel Carlson’s 1962 book Silent Spring which argued not only are pesticides dangerous to the environment and humans, they did not succeed in their mission – that pests often rebound massively after spraying once natures built-in system of checks and balances has been disrupted. Carlson’s book was instrumental in curbing the use of DDT.

Ok, where else to look for wisdom and hope? Since a homily is to be a reflection on scripture let’s look at today’s readings. In Job, God shows Job the kingdom of the wild, impressing on Job that he has no control over it. Only God’s Wisdom and nurture are ever present.

I take some comfort from the larger message of the Book of Job, which is: “even the just may suffer here, and their sufferings are a test of their fidelity. They shall be rewarded in the end. Man’s finite mind cannot probe the divine all-knowing that governs the world. The problems we encounter can be solved by a broader and deeper awareness of God’s power, presence and wisdom.”

The message in Psalm 104 is that humans are included among the¬† creatures. This hymn also acknowledges it is the Lord who governs and sustains all God’s creatures. Both the passages in Job and Psalm 104 engage in a positive theology of nature where animals are actively doing God’s work with their very existence. The process of their lives in the ecosystems God established testify to an enduring truth that “God’s work never fails. What does fail, however, is human willingness to recognize the intrinsic value of animals and plants who share our home on earth. Too often animals are seen as nothing but our servants.”

To this wisdom Luke adds it is God that provides for all and wills for all species to survive and thrive. The larger message of the Gospel of Luke is that the function of Christian communities is to confront humanity with this word, … and inevitably this word, Jesus’ word, does find those who will hear, believe and act.”

The roll of the Church in the 21st century, according to Father Thomas Berry, an eminent cultural historian is to help shape a future based in human-Earth relations. He wants to: see an era emerge when humans “would be present to the planet in a mutually enhancing manner. [That] We need to establish ourselves in a single integral community that includes all members of planet Earth”

This can only happen, says Berry, when humans come to see their place and role in the universe as being completely dependent on the habitats, flora and fauna of Earth, all of which have intrinsic value not dependent on human needs or wants. Accepting this limited role is the first, and most difficult, step that humans must take. If these steps are taken, Berry sees hope for humanity and the planet’s survival.

Professor Robin Kimmerer, a native American of Potawatomi descent, is working on just such a view. She’s seeking to find and promote language that affirms our kinship with the natural world. An idea that is new to most people, but in fact it is ancient – it is the grammar of animacy, a word I introduced near the beginning of this homily. In the professor’s native language “Birds, bugs and berries are spoken of with the same respectful grammar as humans are, as if we are all members of the same family. Because we are.” –Nature is not an it – but Kin.

Doesn’t that sound much like what was promoted in today’s scriptures: to seek His kingdom – indeed His Kin-dom?

In closing: If a person desires to increase their service to our planet, we do not have to look far to join a growing number of people around the world acting on God’s behalf. They range from young people lining up in the US to vote for environmental protection to Filipinos reforesting their country….

And, lastly, take a lesson from wild kin: Be that mamma skunk protecting her young – go at the big environmental threats prepared to raise a stink!