post and photos by Rodney Marsh,
Where I live it is mid-winter – the cold, rainy season. This year, after four years of drought, empty dams and failed crops farmers are enjoying a productive season. And the countryside rejoices. I recently retired, and I have been visiting farms up to 150km East of where I live. Each day, as I drove around the countryside, I found animals who, just by being who they were, gave glory to God. Their being (in which I share also as a being created by God), brought me great joy.
Day 1 A Whale
I saw my first whale of the season. I took my lunch break and sat by the rocky coast. Just offshore, a lone young humpback played at being an adult. He slapped his fins and tail and practised breaching. When Humpback mothers return to their winter breeding ground here on the South Coast, they will swim away from their offspring. This young male was now an independent adolescent, clearly not fully grown but growing up. I saw him take a dive and thought, “he’s going to jump” and the photo shows his ‘teenage’ nose emerging from the water at the beginning of his breach. He completed a not very impressive jump, but it was a good effort. I imagine that in three years time he will be a breeding male and will, by then, be able to impress the girls with a fully grown body and his magnificent breaching.
For children and adolescents, play is learning and learning is copying. This young humpback challenged me to wonder if I could still ‘play’ and enjoy my life and he also asked me to remember that I am always a learner, a disciple of the one who created me and shares my being. Being a disciple means copying my Leader and growing up into him who is the head of all things.
Day 2 A Tortoise
The next day, I travelled inland visiting mainly beef farms. In many places I had to proceed carefully for the swamps had turned into lakes and water covered the gravel roads. Whilst driving along a bitumen road, I had to stop my car to allow a Western Swamp Tortoise to finish crossing the road to lay her eggs in the nearby bush. In late spring, the turtle hatchlings (about the size of a fingernail) will recross the road to join their mother in the lake. There they will feed and grow and, as the summer advances and the lake dries, they will, like their mother, bury themselves deep in the mud, hibernate, and emerge whenever the lake fills again. These tortoises live for about 40 years and may lay up to three clutches of eggs a season. They will survive a dry lake as long as the deep mud, in which they sleep, does not completely dry out. I was so pleased to see this female since these animals, though endangered now, were a very common feature of my childhood. I photographed the female tortoise on her lonely, slow, dangerous journey across the road.
This tortoise reminded me of Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” I wasn’t going to stop her from getting where she was going! This determination was a gift. It was part of her nature and being “who she was” – a tortoise. This tortoise gave glory to God and brought me joy by just being. She reminded me that to be “who I am” is unique and cannot be found by looking to others’ expectations of me, or of looking to the expectations I presume others have of me or looking to my own imagined expectations of an image I have created of “who I am”. My holiness is completely unique to me and, like this tortoise, is inbuilt and totally non-self-conscious. So to become who I am I need to be in a relaxed and confident connection with the one who made me. Then I will be who I am meant to be in God’s world.
Day 3 An Alpaca and a mob of Kangaroos
I ventured East toward what are mainly cropping and sheep farms. Local farmers often include an alpaca with their sheep flocks. Being a herd animal, the alpacas bond with the sheep and provide much needed protection for the lambs. Alpaca’s deadly kicks keep foxes from killing lambs. This friendly alpaca had no sheep to bond with, so he had joined a mob of kangaroos. But he also apparently liked humans because, perhaps in the expectation of a treat, he sprinted over to my car as soon as I arrived in the paddock. I photographed him through the driver’s window. I think his ‘smile’ and his look show plenty of chutzpah.
This is the kangaroo mob that the alpaca had joined. I counted 30 kangaroos in this mob and there were at least as many not in this photograph. The males on the outside of the group are paying attention to me. Am I a threat? Can they trust me?
The alpaca and kangaroos reminded me of the great differences in ‘personality’ within animals and in the body of Christ. When Paul tells the Corinthians, “Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body”, Paul emphasises both differences and unity of purpose of all members of Christ. Members have different gifts and distinct services to offer and many ways of operating but these differences come from one Spirit, we serve one Lord and it is the one God who works in us in all these different ways. If I am an ‘alpaca’ will I use my strength to protect and serve others? Kangaroos and alpacas both give glory to God and joy to me by being who they are – timid or bold. In God’s economy, this means I must also ask myself, “Who am I for others?”.
Day 4 Ewes and Lambs
This time of year, the temperature can drop to near freezing at night, and the weather forecasters often issue a ‘sheep weather warning’ because the combination of cold, rain, and wind can be fatal for lambs or newly shorn sheep. But what can a farmer do? The only protection provided can be some remnant vegetation left to provide shelter for the flock. The photo below shows a newly birthed lamb. As I approached the farm, I saw that the farmer had left some remnant vegetation and then I saw one newborn lamb in the scrub. I trust this little one found her mum.
Of course, many Biblical images use lambs and sheep but the one that sprang to my mind when I saw this lamb was Jesus’ story of the little lost lamb. Her mother’s searching love is like God’s searching love for us and we all experience lostness and being found as part of all our lives. The back story is always that we are sought and will be found by God’s seeking/finding love.
This photo shows the rest of the flock nearby. Notice the frolliking lambs. What joy! What innocence! What freshness! What beauty! Life begins this way, but can my life be marked each moment by freshness, innocence and joy? Only by continuous and intimate contact with the source of life.
A Poem: All things praise Thee—Lord, may we!
God’s being is seen in…
A jumping whale
A plodding turtle
A bold alpaca
A timid roo
A leaping lamb
In me too
I practise 30 mins of Christian meditation every day and I conclude my prayer with this version of The Gloria (modified):
(In breath) Whilst seated, I raise my arms with open hands toward the sky and say out loud:
(Out breath) “Glory be to the Father from whom all things have their being”
(In breath) Then I stretch my arms horizontally and say out loud:
(Out breath)“And to the Son in whom all things find their being”
(In breath) Then I fold my arms across my chest, with hands touching my shoulders, and say out loud:
(Out breath) “And to the Holy Spirit through whom all things express their being, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”
Then I say, out loud, the Lord’s Prayer.
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