Beyond the Edge of Knowledge: An Ecological Hope for Lent

The Reverend Christine V. Hides
The Amur Leopard
Tuesday, February 20, 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 Amur Leopard

For a few years my daughter took an intense interest in tigers. If a child you know has had a singular, all-consuming interest in dinosaurs or princesses, you understand why we planned our travels around big cat rescue centers. My personal favorite is the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado which has a mile-long elevated observation deck designed to reduce the stress on lions, tigers, and bears (Oh my!) that have been saved from sad circuses and backyard zoos. Captive tigers in the US (about 5,000)  outnumber tigers remaining in the wild.

Perhaps because I have a wealth of accumulated tiger facts, I was surprised to learn about their rare cousin, the Amur Leopard. In the 1970s there were estimated to be just 30 of these elusive cats left. The creation of protected natural areas in Russia, specifically the Land of the Leopards National Park, enabled them to triple their population. This same conservation area also protects Siberian (Amur) tigers. But as populations increase the tigers may threaten the leopards. Both require vast, wild territories.

A pastor colleague of mine is asking his congregation, “What is your wilderness?” during Lent. In this season Christians recall that Jesus went to the wilderness to fast for 40 days. There he was tempted and alone. Many of us prefer to avoid this kind of spiritual wilderness. But we are drawn to the wilderness spaces that dot our developed world: forest preserves, national parks, remote beaches, and deserts.

Last summer I was one of our wilderness confirmation leaders to Olympic National Park. There’s no place like the edge of a sparkling mountain river or a dark, star-laden sky to feel close to God. Like the Amur Leopards, we need untouched places for our thriving.

In our own community we have the beloved Skokie Lagoons. Many more treasures to explore and protect are marked on the Openlands Get Outside Map. “Founded in 1963, Openlands protects the natural and open spaces of northeastern Illinois and the surrounding region to ensure cleaner air and water, protect natural habitats and wildlife, and help balance and enrich our lives.”

Here are some other ways to cultivate wilder spaces for thriving written by Kenilworth Union children and adults:

Plant a tree to celebrate a special event, Harrison L.

Walk or ride your bike to work or school, Rose D.

No one captures our need for wilderness like Wendell Berry. Let “The Peace of Wild Things” be our prayer today:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

February 20, 2024

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