Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

Sarah Champlin
The Northern Long-Eared Bat
Friday, March 8, 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 Northern Long-Eared Bat

Bats always make me think of my first experience as a summer camp counselor back in high school. I had agreed to join our week-long sleepaway church camp, and I was put in charge of the third-grade girls, most of whom had never slept away from home before.

I shouldn’t have been surprised when one day a cabin full of terrified, shrieking girls surrounded me as I walked back from the lake. They burst from their room in a blind panic and it was all I could do not to join the fray and start screeching and running around with them. My sharp assessment of the situation led me to the inevitable conclusion that we had a murderer on our hands. He was lurking in the girls’ room waiting to strike, and I (the weight of adult responsibility suddenly bearing down upon me) was the only one who could save us all. Sometimes greatness is thrust upon us. We needed a plan, and fast. I snatched one of the screamers and held her until she focused her wild eyes on me. “What is it?!” I bellowed. “What’s in there?!” Seeming surprised to be asked such a question, she paused mid-howl to consider a moment. She hesitated and looked up at me, eyes wide as saucers, then answered resolutely: “A big moth.”

Folks, it was a bat. We opened the door to find the small and bewildered creature just as horrified and confused to find itself in the cabin as the girls were to discover it there. It was only hours later, after the bat was safely removed and the kids calmed down that I could finally sit down and laugh about this child’s confident and completely incorrect identification of the animal. Something about the seriousness of her answer still makes me smile all these years later. Of course we can’t fault her for not knowing a bat when she saw it—they look much different than Halloween decorations would have us believe. “A big moth” is not a bad guess, all things considered. Still there is something delightful about witnessing the phases of a child’s discovery of something new. It begins with confusion (sometimes in the form of terror), then an attempt to place the new thing into a familiar category, and finally the dawn of realization—the moment at which the world becomes a little bit bigger. The bat incident was all anyone could talk about for the rest of the week.

It feels wonderful to rest in the knowledge that a creature as commonplace as a bat can be the source of someone’s world expanding. It reminds me that newness is constantly unfolding, even when we’re close to home and think we’ve seen it all. Creation sprawls around us, waiting for us to discover it. I often think of the iconic line from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”[1]

Clearly God is trying to please us, one bat at a time. It’s our duty and delight to notice it. The Northern Long-Eared Bat, native to Illinois, is slowly succumbing to white-nose syndrome and has recently been put on the endangered list.[2] This is bad news for all the children who have yet to discover exactly what a bat looks like. Yet hope lies in the forest preserves of Cook County, which provide excellent habitats for bats who need it. I invite you to take a walk or a bike ride around a forest preserve near you. You might just discover God hiding in the trees, waiting for the perfect moment to surprise you with something utterly, delightfully new.

Let us pray with E.E. Cummings, who marvels with us at the constant newness of God’s creation:

I thank You God for most this amazing
day: for leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes.

[1] Alice Walker, The Color Purple


March 8, 2024

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