Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
The Chinese Pangolin
Wednesday, March 18, 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

Smuggling. Harvesting. Selling. Trafficking. Gayle Boss says that a Chinese pangolin is “snatched from the wild every five minutes… the world’s most trafficked animal.” 

They look almost like a Texan’s armadillo, and similar to anteaters, they have a long excavating tongue to eat termites and other insects deep in the sandy ground, but genetically are more akin to the cats and dogs with whom we share our homes. Their armory scales are attractive to hunters who sell them to medicine shops: psoriasis, asthma, anxiety, cancer, you name it, pangolin scales are thought to cure it. Hunters harvest their young too, to be added to savory stews at high end restaurants. Illegal wildlife trafficking is attractive because of the pretty penny extracted per pound of pangolin. 

What does hope look like for the Chinese Pangolin? When exploitation of a species means economic windfall for the most aggressive hunters and harvesters, it is hard to stem the tide. Hope means hard work. Listed as critically endangered, the World Land Trust works with partners in northern India and Nepal to educate communities on the pangolin’s fragile status and offer economic incentives that lead to what they call a “sustainable livelihood” that might deter exploitation and encourage wildlife conservation. As is the case in almost every endangered species, only culture change, and a human desire for preservation will win out. 

Have our hearts become hardened? Is hope just folly? When Jesus went to teach, he spoke in parables. His disciples asked him why he spoke in parables instead of speaking directly. He replied by quoting an ancient prophet, “the people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.” (Matthew 13:15). 

Gayle Boss writes about the real life of animals in a way that feels almost parabolical, saying that when under threat, the mother Chinese pangolin “will slide her baby to her belly and curl around it, an impenetrable ball not even a tiger’s fangs can pierce.” You hear the story of tender care for her young, of a mother’s sacrificial love under threat of danger. And yet as sharp as a tiger’s fang might be, the unquenchable cravings of humans can be infinitely razor-edged, many times over. 

For me sometimes wisdom comes from far off places. Likely little known in our circles today, Isaac the Syrian, a seventh century Christian bishop and theologian, understands the kind of compassion needed, the kind of soft heart needed to subdue the torrent of human caused endangered species. He says, “A charitable heart… is a heart which is burning with love for the whole creation… the one who has such a heart cannot see or call to mind a creature without their eyes being filled with tears by reason of the immense compassion which seizes the heart; a heart which is softened and can no longer bear to see or learn from others of any suffering, even the smallest pain, being inflicted upon a creature.” This is the softening of the heart we need. 

May our ears hear. 
May our eyes see. 
May our hearts soften, widen, 
open to your creatures, O God.

How else can you support the global animal population? Try these ideas from your friends at church:

Use cloth napkins, Cindi S.

Use public transportation, Beatrice K.

Continue campaign to eliminate gas leaf blowers, Carol B.

Unplug cell phone chargers when not in use, Harrison L.

Grow a garden, Anonymous

March 19, 2024

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