Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

Sarah Champlin
The North Atlantic Right Whale
Tuesday, March 5, 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 North Atlantic Right Whale

Gayle Boss introduces us to Kleenex, a North Atlantic right whale that researchers have been tracking since 1977. She is a matriarch of the shrinking population of right whales, with twenty-two children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. With only 400 right whales left in the world today, Kleenex’s prodigy make up a significant percentage of the remaining whales. Naturally she is watched very carefully by researchers who are invested in protecting the health of breeding females, the carriers of this species’ hope for continuation.

In many ways Kleenex reminds me of my great-aunt Mary, whose 90th birthday I celebrated with my family last Thanksgiving. Situated in a suburb outside Arkansas, Aunt Mary managed to gather together her whole sprawling brood that stretched from Alaska to Boston. There had to have been at least 50 of us there—children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, ex-husbands, half-siblings, strangers that must be related somehow but whom I had never seen before. A real family scene, in other words. Generations of love and of hardship, of messiness and of life’s weird left turns, of lives lived in all different directions, all came to represent for a birthday party of the woman who started it all. As we enjoyed birthday cake, we each told a Mary story of a memory shared with her. As I listened to the decades of memories, I felt so struck by the power of the community that Aunt Mary had spent her life building since she was married at 16. It had become so much bigger than her, so much more than the sum of its parts.

God’s promise to creation is one of fruitfulness. Fruitfulness does not always look the same as it does in the case of Kleenex, or my great-aunt Mary. For theologian Walter Brueggemann, it looks like a divine redirection away from death-dealing systems. God leaves us “flooded with fruitfulness—the technological destruction that seeks to sustain our unsustainable standard of living is now passé.”[1] Fruitfulness looks different for each of us: some of us birth new ideas into existence, new pockets of beloved community, new ways of being in the world. At the center of this newness is always God, the source of all miraculous possibility. Many of us are not yet grand matriarchs of fruitfulness—we are somewhere in the messy middle, making all the mistakes and suffering all the losses that it takes to get somewhere truly new. At her last sighting, Kleenex was entangled in a rope from a lobster trap, struggling to open her mouth wide enough to eat. The new life that God promises us does not come without hardship or strain. The hope of Easter is that God’s promise is real.

Let us pray with a Lenten offering from Walter Brueggemann:

Remembering God, hold before us this Lenten season the promise of your commitment to creation. Flooded by your fidelity, may we work toward a new life that matches your promise. Amen.

[1] Walter Brueggemann, A Way Other Than Our Own, 17.

March 5, 2024

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