Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Reverend Christine V. Hides
The Golden Riffleshell Mussel
Monday, March 11, 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 Golden Riffleshell Mussel

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you,” writes Wendell Berry. 

To understand the creatures highlighted in this week’s devotional we need to know something about watersheds, the land areas that funnel into waterways, which flow into ever larger waterways. So important are watersheds that the 19th century explorer John Wesley Powell suggested that they be the basis for western state boundary lines. He was fired for his idea, an idea that likely would have avoided the “balkanization” of our watershed management today. You can identify and learn about the health and flow of your own local watershed by entering your address into the EPA website

From the EPA website, I learned that my favorite river on earth, the French Broad, is part of the same Upper Tennessee River Basin as today’s mollusk. The basin is “noted nationally for its diversity of freshwater fishes and mussels, including 174 species of fish and 85 species of mussels,”[1] including the Golden Riffleshell. Mussels are the Brita filters which clean our waterways. They are foundational to our ecosystems, according to Jordan Richard of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: “When you don’t care about mussels, you don’t care about them in the same way you don’t care about the foundation of your house,” he says. “By the time you notice, termites or water damage may have completely destroyed it.” 

The Golden Riffleshell is the rarest of the endangered mussels in the US and is found only in one small creek in the larger Clinch River watershed, which is part of the Upper Tennessee Basin. In 1998 an upstream spill from a tanker truck carrying rubber manufacturing chemicals killed half of the Golden Riffleshells. Since then, scientists have figured out how to nurture glochidia, microscopic mussel larvae, in the lab in the hopes of increasing their numbers. They are making progress. But our water quality depends upon the recovery of these and other mussel species, which depend upon humans being better upstream neighbors.

Let us turn Wendell Berry’s golden rule into our prayer:

God of the still and flowing waters, help us to notice the tiny creatures that are part of the foundation of our ecosystem. Make us do to those downstream as we would have our upstream neighbors do unto us.

Here are some other action items from our Kenilworth Union eco-champions:

Purchase second hand clothes to save H20 (and money) A cotton shirt can take 700 gallons of water to manufacture. Christine H.

Stop running water to get a cold drink. Use a pitcher in the refrigerator. Laurie L.

Know your local watershed and how to protect it. 


[1]  https://garivers.org/tennessee-river/

March 11, 2024

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