Among Many, a Theology of Frogs
Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
On that same day, [Easter morning] two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. They were prevented from recognizing him....When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
think I have always resonated with this particular text: that sense that two friends are walking along their way, and as they talk about what is happening in their lives, they find they encounter Jesus, and yet, it is only afterward that they realize he had been with them. And they realize it because it felt as if their hearts were on fire, not heartburn in the medical sense, but that spiritual something-more that comes in the midst of friendship and shared experience. I can imagine it happening in the hallways at school, while walking the dog, at track practice, after an unexpected meet up with a friend at a coffee shop. Wherever it is, you explain to one another the things that trouble you. And there it is, that spiritual something-more in which it feels as if your heart is, as John Wesley says, strangely warmed.
There is something beautiful and hopeful about these Jesus encounters after the crucifixion. Easter opens up within us so many possibilities: Jesus the gardener. Jesus the hiking companion. Jesus the fisherman. Jesus standing at the fork in the road. Jesus the unexpected dinner guest. There is a coming and going, an elusive quality to these post-resurrection encounters of Jesus. He’s there and then he’s not. His presence is tangible and yet somehow mysterious. A heart strangely warmed. A meal shared. A recognition.
There is hope and promise and a diversity of experiences give us the sense that there’s no one way to encounter Jesus in our lives. As these diverse experiences were collected by the gospel writers over the decades to follow no one gospel writer chose to tell the story in the same way. As the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and Easter mystery began to circulate in the centuries that followed, Christians have affirmed these multiple ways of telling Jesus’ story. No Christian community has said, “Let’s only read the Gospel of Luke” or “Let’s forget about the Gospel of Matthew.” Four gospels, multiple post-resurrection stories, hundreds of ways to let those stories live in our lives.
I think about all this today because it is Confirmation Sunday, a day when 38 ninth graders will stand up and affirm their faith. I have been serving at Kenilworth Union Church for almost 6 years now and each year the people going through Confirmation write a Faith Statement. (And, consequently every year I ponder the possibility of asking adults to write Faith Statements too, and maybe next year I’ll really go through with it… taking time to write down, in essence a snapshot of your current ways of noticing God in your life can really deepen your sense of God’s presence, I highly recommend it.) I’ve read 300+ Faith Statements from your favorite teenagers at Kenilworth Union Church (well, I guess the oldest of them turned 20 this year, but still).
When I think over what they’ve written, the power of it, the diversity, the threads of wisdom, and the tender fragility of wondering about God’s presence in their lives, I can’t help but think of these beautiful post-resurrection stories like the one I read today. There is a unity in the diversity of thought found within the post-resurrection stories and there is a unity of diversity of thought found within the yearly Confirmation Faith Statements. And yet there is a beautiful unparalleled uniqueness to each voice. Somehow I meet the mystery of Jesus, asking afterward “was not your heart strangely warmed?” when speaking with these ninth graders about the story of God’s love so embodied.
This year, three, four, okay, maybe 38 Faith Statements stood out. One Faith Statement was, in its totality a Theology of Frogs. One was a Theology of Moose Encounters. One was a Theology of Mountain Top Experiences. One was a Theology of Sacred Places Far from Home. One evoked Martin Luther King, Jr. More than one wrestled with the inherited idea of God as an old white man with a long flowing beard (you can picture this God too, right?), while others pondered God in less anthropomorphic manifestations such as air, light, or presence. And, I have never had so many students tell me about the ways in which their dog helps them see God in this world. Held within these dense testimonies of God’s presence is the lived experience of every young person.
Take the Theology of Frogs for example. I am inspired and intrigued by the inclination to weave such an often unnoticed creature into one’s faith statement. It is in some ways, a Theology of Liberation, in which God exhibits a preferential option for the poor, the small, the overlooked, the ones with little power in this world, the ones getting a raw deal. Frogs are vulnerable to pollution, habitat loss, climate change, overharvesting for food, and infectious frog diseases spread by the modern transnational air travel. They cannot ask multinational corporations to stop clearcutting forests or ask factory farmers to quit spraying pesticides. God is on the side of the frogs, God suffers with the frogs, God mourns for the hundreds of frog species that have been lost in the anthropocene.
Our life-centered God has unlimited love that is universal in scope, inclusive of all creatures, and yet infinitely tender, desiring the well-being of each creature for its own sake, including that one particular frog that peeps and clucks and ribbits nearby as you watch the sunset from your backyard. A Theology of Frogs can tune us toward this life-centered God, who in caring for that one particular frog’s well-being, must also in turn care for the smallest and largest worries, hopes, and prayers that emerge from our lives.
In other words God loves us because God loves the frogs. And God loves the frogs because nothing in all creation escapes God’s notice. Such sacrificial love extends to mountains, rivers, stars, and even the wind. Anywhere in all creation it is possible for our hearts to become as if on fire and we know the presence of Jesus Christ is near because God’s love is all in all.
Kenilworth Union Church has, in some ways, been preaching a Theology of Frogs for many years now, ever since the preschool adopted the frog as it’s mascot. You can find frogs hidden all over Kenilworth Union. F.R.O.G. stands for Forever Relying on God, putting us there always, with the one whose love is turned toward us.
Turned another direction, a Theology of Frogs can remind us that no matter how our faith is nudged into existence, there are others to meet us there, to walk with us along the way, to share in our story of God’s mystery.
It doesn’t take much to see a more global theology of frogs take shape: frogs are liminal creatures, living double lives on land and in water. “They keep vigil in ponds, marshes, lakes, meadows, trees, and woods.”
The predictability of frogs’ habits and mating rhythms allowed early agricultural communities the ability to know when the seasonal rains were coming, and because of that, frogs became ancient symbols of the primordial waters, the waters out of which all creation sprang to life. Frog theologies pop up on every continent in Paleolithic cave drawings and Sumerian epics. Frogs are in Egyptian, Greek, Native American, Mesoamerican, and Aboriginal Australian theologies. In one Mayan religion, frogs are associated with the Rain God Chac. Chief Seattle, a hundred and fifty years ago, defined the quality of one’s life by the ability to listen to “the arguments of the frogs around a pond at night.” As for a theology of frogs that really makes you go “wow,” in Hinduism, the primordial frog Ma-ha-man-du-ka symbolizes the life force and supports the serpent of time on whose back Vishnu slept while he dreamt the cosmos into being.
And back to our own sacred tradition, our own theological hometown, some Christian theologians, so in tune with nature as to have noticed the possibility of frogs drawing near to Jesus, have envisioned Christ resurrected amid the croaking of frogs announcing the coming of summer.
Within every creature-encounter in God’s wide world, be it moose or honey bee or hummingbird, there is the possibility to encounter Christ in the post-resurrection world. Not all of us will specifically wonder “where are the frogs within the mystery of Easter?” but some of us have centuries ago and some of us will on into the future.
In other words, if you think the way you have been thinking about God is odd or unusual there is probably someone else in the Christian faith who is thinking something similar. You do not need to be alone in your way of thinking about God, in fact, there is joy and illumination and amplification when we talk together about God in our lives. The theologies held within us echo and shape our own unique and authoritative understandings of Jesus held within and between our shared lives as Christians.
We walk the way with one another and as our hearts become as if on fire, we together can point to that divine “exuberant energy which is equally at home in the vast nothingness between galaxies, the explosion of stars, the strangely toxic atmosphere of venus, the tenderness of a deer protecting her fawn, the hunger of a young lion, the ordered procession of the stars, the chaos of a refugee camp or storm.”
There is hope, within the Body of Christ, that we might find our hearts strangely warmed, that we might know that the resurrected Christ is near as we walk the way with one another. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 A Theology of Liberation is rooted in the Latin American theological voices like Gustavo Gutiérrez who advocated for the poor and oppressed, saying that God draws nearest to them.
 This theological idea comes from Of God and Pelicans: A Theology of Reverence for Life, by Jay Byrd McDaniel.
 Frogs Are Disappearing. What Does That Mean? by Ligaya Mishan, October 18, 2018.
 The Mythical Zoo: An Encyclopedia of Animals in World Myth, Legend and... by Boria Sax.
 The Continuum Encyclopedia of Animal Symbolism in Art. New York: Continuum, 2006, entry on Frogs.
 "There is Hope for a Tree": Lament and Hope in Conversation with Polydoxy, Wendy Farley, Modern Theology, July, 2014.