Bonus Podcast | God in the Noticing

A reflection on dragonflies, neurobiology, attention and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

“I’m reminded by these dragonflies to pay better attention to what deserves my attention. But I also have a hard time thinking that God sent the dragonflies to me as some sort of message about attention or about discipleship. The dragonflies came to feed on some hatching insects over the grass in front of the chapel in the low light. It doesn’t mean God wasn’t there. Maybe God was there in the noticing, there in between the dragonflies and me. The dragonflies were fed there on the lawn and filled, and so was I. So maybe there was God in that. But the hatching insects, whatever their species, were mostly devoured. And some of those dragonflies were most likely picked off by birds as they flew back to cover of the woods. And if those small insects could contemplate God, they might think the opposite about the whole encounter, wondering instead about the question of evil, wondering why God seemed so distant, so uncaring, as we so often feel at the strike of tragedy in our lives.”

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Interesting thoughts on time and perception and interconnectedness, not to mention God’s involvement in the details. Thanks.

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Thank you for this lovely opportunity to feel God present in great numbers all through the life on this planet. It is a vision which an agnostic can easily share without a great deal of translation, especially the sentence I bolded. What a generous gift to open Christmas Eve.

If it’s hard for us to say what its like to be a dragonfly — and they are physical creatures like us with lots of similar neurophysiology — how much harder must it be for us to say what God is like? But we try and use metaphors and speak in negatives. God is not some humanoid pulling levers while looking down from the sky and controlling the world around each human, so that he or she might be blessed or punished, or called to discipleship through a bird or a storm, a billboard beside the road or a swarm of dragonflies at dusk. Maybe it means that God is something wider and less human. How could anything human be so pervasive as to attend to so many interactions, even on just one little patch of lawn in the Adirondack mountains, let alone throughout the history of the cosmos. Maybe it means that God’s spirit hovers between me and the dragonflies, drawing me to notice them. And if that’s true then maybe it is also true that God’s spirit hovers in so many other places waiting for my attention, and also in places which have nothing whatsoever to do with me.
I like to think of the Holy Spirit as being like the mycorrhizal fungus, with the mission of intertwining with all things, that God’s spirit pervades all things, not in a way that controls, but in a way that binds one thing to another, the tiny unidentified insect to the dragonfly, to me and out into the trees and into the birds watching and waiting for a dragonfly meal, and to the fisher cat stalking in the shadows, still with the cockleburs stuck in her fur waiting to be dropped in some fertile soil and grow, and to the worms and centipedes and millipedes, the roly poly bugs and beetles and spiders and all the other creatures that live always beneath our feet, churning the soil, turning the dead — which are also connected — into the basic elements which will feed the living.

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What a beautiful response to the wonderfully addressed behavior of dragon flies. The ecology of living things is so complex and often fragile that we do not realize how much damage humans can cause in interactions with these environments. It is also true that we do not recognize the contributions that lowly forms of life contribute to our well-being. An example are earthworms which feed on plant detritus and turn it into soil. All of the soil in farmland was passed through the digestion tracts of earthworms over eons of time.

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