Friday, May 21, 2010

Learning from the Natural World

Last week I saw two marvelous gifts of creation. We have a creek that runs through our backyard. There is about 20 feet of “common land” that belongs to our subdivision which goes from the edge of the creek up to our property line. Anyone is free to walk along the creek on the common land, which makes for a great green space to walk the dog, exercise or do a meditation walk.
Every year a mallard couple returns to the creek to lay their eggs. Last year, I never saw the ducklings, who are often brought down the creek to swim and feed behind our house where the creek ponds. But during dinner a week ago, there they were—twelve ducklings and their mom, scraping the rocks for food with their bills and swimming. I quietly went down the steps of the deck and got as close as I could without scaring them off. The mom quacked some orders as they moved back up the creek. None of the chicks strayed far, and they marched up the creek like they were playing follow the leader. They were in fact, following the leader—the mom—and doing what she did. It gave me great joy to witness their evening outing.
The next evening, my Daughter and I were in the kitchen and I glimpsed up the creek, a tan flash of something running. We ran to the sliding glass door and watched a doe run down the common land. A hundred paces behind came a second doe following the first. We have seen deer before here, but this is more of a rare occurrence. Witnessing these kinds of events in nature, which may be more plentiful as we enter summer, gives us the opportunity to experience both a lift in our self-esteem and a corrective to our pride.
I love being reminded that the ducks are not trying to be anything but ducks. They are not wishing they were swans; they are not attempting to behave like geese, frogs or cardinals. The doe is not trying to run like cheetah; it does not pine to be an antelope, a buffalo or squirrel. They don’t wonder if these other creatures are better than they are. They are simply and completely themselves and behave just like they were created to. This simple observation helps me when I go through times of feeling that I am not good enough, smart enough, talented enough – or whatever it is that causes me to question my inherent worth and value as a child of God. Through nature, we are reminded to be completely ourselves—not comparing ourselves to others, or wishing or thinking we should be different than we are. God made us each the way he desired and our task is to become more fully and completely ourselves as ones made in God’s image and shaped by God’s will.
Observing nature also gives us a corrective at the other end of the spectrum—with pridefulness—when we think we are better than everyone else, indispensable or we are puffed up with our own importance. The ducks and the deer are important, but they are not the be all and end all of creation. They are part of the “circle of life” as we all were reminded in Disney’s movie, The Lion King. Each creature is essential, but they are not everything. Every part is needed for a harmonious balance, but they cannot create this balance on their own. The same is true for us. When I become full of pride, I take a walk along the creek to be reminded that I am only a part –an important part, yes, but only a part of much bigger communities—in my family, my neighborhood, my work, my colleagues, my larger church community. We are essential, but none of us is everything—none of can do everything, be everything, control everything, balance everything. Just like each part of nature, we have a place and a part.
This humility is also important when watching how ducks, deer and other creatures follow the leader. Sometimes and in certain settings, we are the leader. Other situations call us to follow. As a parent, I am mindful that children follow us; they do and say what we do and say; and younger children say and do what older siblings do and say, as well. Sometimes I am a good role model; others times I flunk—I can tell when I have flunked by what comes out of my children’s mouths. I pray that more often than not, I can be like that mother duck and quack out the right, helpful and good thing to say to help them and other children learn.
Spiritual lessons abound when we pay attention to nature. This summer, may you be blessed with many experiences of God’s creation, and with the wonderful lessons that nature has to teach us.

No comments:

Post a Comment