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Faces on Faith: All nature red in tooth and claw? Not!

By Staff | May 2, 2013

Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan

The month of April wanes as I pen these thoughts on an early morning just before dawn. Pink skies are barely visible through the trees across the little pond behind my house – as I sit here soaking in the breathtaking creation around me.

Most days, it seems to be the best place for scripture study, prayer and other conversations with God. Perhaps it’s the mighty feeling of God’s presence as the earth awakes, the moon disappears from sight and sunlight slowly takes over. Once again, I am in awe of the universe, from its utter vastness to the small creatures in my midst. In awe and simultaneously troubled by what I describe as the violent behavior of the creatures before me – “nature red in tooth and claw.”

Take the elegant and gracious white egret who followed me yesterday as I walked out to get the morning paper. After her curiosity with me abated, she became intent on finding breakfast (capturing breakfast I should say), and focused her eyes on a small black snake hiding under the ixora bush.

Not so gracious, I thought, as she pursued her frightened prey. Purposeful, long and careful strides brought her closer and zap … she had it, but what a struggle! As the egret held the little snake in her long beak, it steadfastly refused to yield and wrapped itself tightly around her long, slender neck. She shook it loose but to no avail.

Over and over and over this cycle continued until at last she succeeded, pulled the snake loose and satisfied her hunger. Poor little snake, I thought.

The drama of life in the wild unfolded before me, from the osprey’s catch of the day to the alligator’s turtle repast.

Why dwell upon such violent activities on this beautiful morning? Why the tinge of sadness? Why even reflect upon any thoughts regarding such normal routines and lifestyles of animals? Poor little snake?

Not really. It’s the cycle of life and the survival of wild creatures. I guess my musing is partially due to the recent violence at the Boston Marathon, the ongoing turbulence in the Middle East, and the violent deaths brought on by less-than-vigilant owners of a garment factory in Bangladesh.

Will violence among humans ever disappear? Will we ever reach a level of peaceful interactions, compassion, and caring solutions, and NOT live as “nature red in tooth and claw?”

You might say, “Why such a grim message from the Rector of St. Michael’s? Not grim I say … rather, an opportunity to discover paths of hope in humanity by facing the violence head on. Rather than read the paper and think that things will never change or that you can’t do it alone, there are things we can do and are doing.

Look at any Sanibel or Fort Myers paper any day of the week and you’ll see individuals and circles of people who reach out, who lead their communities and the world with healthy compromise, compassion, and care, making marvelous strides toward peace-filled solutions.

I’m reminded of Gandhi, who worked tirelessly to transform the highest values of humanity into aspects of simple, daily life. Gandhi often commented on his admiration of Jesus Christ who also modeled peace, love, and compassion in a world “red in tooth and claw.”

Gandhi once wrote, “Nonviolence is not a cloistered virtue to be practiced by the individual for his peace and final salvation, but rather it is a rule of conduct for society. It is to bring heaven upon earth. Nonviolence is the law of our species as violence is the law of the brute.”

So, there we are. The egret is not called to be gracious nor grace-filled nor compassionate. She’s called to survive. We have a higher calling – to love – and we must continue to take small steps and large strides toward mitigating and eradicating violence in our own world.

Humanity cannot live the “law of the brute.” Although just now, in the small light of morning, do I actually see a large tortoise giving a gecko a ride across the pond? Hmmm …