Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster

The Indiana Bat
Tuesday, February 27, 2024

“Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.
If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature,
even a caterpillar,
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God is every creature.”
Meister Eckhart

The Indiana Bat

I was a spelunker, an explorer of caves. It happened slowly, then all at once. First in third grade, in southern Indiana we visited Wolf Cave on a girl scout camping trip. A few years later our troop slept at the mouth of Bluespring Cavern, and early in the morning took a boat tour through the waterlogged vault hollowed out by eons of water seeping through the Indiana limestone. Then in junior high during summer camp, I went on an overnight caving excursion to a Brown County, an Indiana cave whose name I no longer remember. The next summer when that same summer camp offered a two week caving trip, my best friend and I couldn’t resist saying yes. We drove in the camp van from Indiana down through Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, visiting caves along the way. We learned how to rappel in and out of caves that went deep in the ground. We walked through underground caverns the size of a football field, and squeezed through muddied passageways that would make a claustrophobic person hyperventilate. One day we came to the end of the cave trail, only to learn that we’d have to step into the cave riverbed and pass under the water briefly to a passageway on the other side. I still can’t believe I did that.

Reading about the Indiana Bat in Gayle Boss’s book Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing conjured up all of this. I saw bats in those days of course, but it wasn’t until 2006, long after I’d hung up my caving helmet, that white-nose syndrome started showing up in Indiana Bats— threatening the species. Since then their population has declined 76 percent. White-nose was passed from cave to cave, not by the bats, but by cavers, explorers in awe of the earth, and wanting to see more. How is it possible that our awe is implicated in such sorrow and loss?

Indiana Bats evolved thousands of years ago to take shelter in the deepest caves, in places like Indiana where limestone creates long caverns far from the earth’s surface. These deep places are a more consistent and colder thirty-seven to forty-two degrees, allowing the bats to preserve precious calories over winter. Unfortunately the cold caverns are exactly where the fungus of white-nose syndrome flourishes. For the cold-seeking bats, warming up is the only way to survive.

About the Indiana Bats, Gayle Boss writes “Some remnant populations, rather than waking once every thirteen nights of their hibernation, are rousing each night—briefly, without burning that much fat. Warming together more often the colony keeps the cold-loving plague at bay. Though it seemed to destroy them, the bats have found deep within the group-body a force that answers death with resurrection.”

Sa’di Shirazi, a thirteenth century Persian poet says “every leaf of the tree becomes a page of the sacred scripture once the soul has learned to read.” Maybe it’s true too, that every bat becomes a page of the sacred scripture, their own struggle and group-forged resurrection-hope showing us what the God-tinged life is like.

What does it take for our soul to learn to read the sacred story of the Indiana Bat? We can watch with awe at their own ability to shift and change to the human-born illnesses that we brought to their cavern door. We can be mindful of our own impact on fragile ecosystems. We can follow the advice of scientists to wash our gear before entering even Mammoth Cave in the most rudimentary way.

Let us pray:
Resurrection-fueled God, let us see the Indiana Bat as a page of sacred scripture, read aloud by you and by the world as holy. Let us mourn those who have died and let us live carefully as we watch in awe, at their evolutionary adaptation. Amen.

February 27, 2024

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