Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
The Alligator Snapping Turtle—Closer to home in Illinois
Friday, March 22, 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

I am in awe of the world. Poet David Whyte puts it this way “I lifted my hands and then my eyes”. It makes sense that human communities would drain swamps, dredge rivers, clear floodplains, and abandon wetlands. You can’t live on top of a swamp, so if you’re building a village, it’s the first thing to go. Furthermore living near a wet and muddy place can mean mosquitos, which means mosquito borne diseases. Water management is critical to human habitat.

Tragically human interference in the landscape is exactly what leads to low populations of water-dwelling animals like the alligator snapping turtle (sometimes they stay submerged under water for so long, algae begins to grow on its shell). Like so many others poachers also pose a threat, seeking both the shell and the meat of these unpretentious, unassuming creatures.

In previous centuries the alligator snapping turtle’s habitat range came well up into the southern half of the state of Illinois. Now only one alligator snapping turtle has been found in the wild in the entire state since 1984. They are considered a threatened species in the state of Illinois, as well as Indiana, Kentucky, and Missouri. Kansas is working on conservation efforts, as well. If you see an alligator snapping turtle in Illinois, it is probably the work of a conservationist’s effort to reintroduce them into the area. And while we are hopeful that they will return to the area, if you do encounter one, be sure not to handle the wild alligator snapping turtles. They can produce up to 1,000 pounds of force with one bite, so the “snap” is no misnomer. 

In her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard declares “the texture of the world, its filigree and scrollwork, means that there is the possibility for beauty here, a beauty inexhaustible in its complexity, which opens to my knock, which answers in me a call I do not remember calling, and which trains me to the wild and extravagant nature of the spirit I seek.” 

The alligator snapping turtle is beautiful in its own way but not like a peacock or butterfly. It’s not ornate. It’s not delicate or flowering. It is muddy. It is raw and dinosaur-like. There is nothing sleek about it. Jagged, yes. Sharp. It eats whatever it can find, an omnivorous diet makes it more flexible in an ailing, and depleted ecosystem. Can we see its inexhaustible beauty anyway? Can we hear the spirit’s echoing answer to our own forgotten calling to care for the wild, extravagant, rustic, muddy alligator snapping turtle? 

Evagrius the Solitary the fourth century monk, says “Nothing is more essential to prayer than attentiveness.” Let us bend ourselves in attention to this hallowed creature.

Looking for ways to pay attention to your own habits of care for the creatures of the earth? Try these suggested eco-friendly practices from your friends at Kenilworth Union: 

Use less heat, Magdalena S.

Change bulbs to LED, Charlie P.

Shorter showers, Magdalena S.

Bring your own reusable containers to restaurants for leftovers, Rob D.

Buy a composter, Sue L.

Recycle, Harrison L.

No more ziplocks, Yann K.

March 24, 2024

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