Have you seen the Milky Way recently?
If you have, you can count yourself among the fortunate.
Astronomers say that light pollution from artificial lights is strong enough in many places to blot out the stars. They’ve calculated that over a third of humanity, and almost 80 percent of North Americans, can no longer see the Milky Way. Indeed, here in Toronto we’re lucky if we can even see the Big Dipper.
Few of us seem to recognize how sad this really is.
Vision scientist Sonke Johnsen does. He wrote:
“The thought of light traveling billions of years from distant galaxies only to be washed out in the last billionth of a second by the glow from the nearest strip mall depresses me no end.”
We seem to devalue the incredible gift of the night skies. We don’t pay it much mind when it’s there. And if we can’t see it any longer, the loss is of little importance to us.
Why is it that losing our connection to the wonder of our galaxy doesn’t seem to bother us? Is it our self-sufficiency? Are we so caught up with our shiny, man-made baubles that we’re blind to our need for something real?
I think this detachment from the cosmos speaks to a spiritual apathy, too.
How is it that we’re indifferent to the awesome gift of the Son of God?
What’s your favourite flower?
Even though I certainly love roses, the tulip holds a special place in my heart. It’s not as showy or fragrant as a rose, but it brings such joy in spring after a long winter.
Among the many types of tulips, I especially like the variegated ones (with multicoloured petals).
But did you know that the dramatic colour combinations of variegated tulips are caused by a virus?
Gardeners had long noticed that tulip petals occasionally “broke” into unusual patterns. But it wasn’t until the late 1500s that botanists realized that the beautiful mixed colouring arising spontaneously in some tulips was actually the result of a disease.
While the tulip-breaking virus causes lovely variegated colouring, it also weakens the tulip bulb, eventually leading to the death of its genetic line.
So how is it that we can still enjoy variegated tulips today? Why haven’t they all died out?
Fortunately, botanists centuries ago learned to graft healthy tulip bulbs onto the diseased or “broken” ones, preserving their lineage. Today, we can enjoy countless cultivars in a dizzying array of colours and patterns.
Doesn’t this remind you of what God does for us?
Why don’t trees freeze to death in winter?
After all, if you or I stood outside naked for several months in sub-zero temperatures, we’d soon be turned into frosty statues.
Trees can’t burrow into the ground and hibernate like bears, and they can’t fly south like migratory birds. They’re fixed in place, at the mercy of the elements.
And yet they somehow survive through the cold depths of winter. Why don’t they turn to ice, since, like other living things, they’re made mostly of water?
Their trick is something called “hardening.”
In autumn, trees in cold climates undergo a change whereby water flows out of their cells. The concentrated sugars, proteins, and acids left behind act as a potent antifreeze. The water now in the spaces between the cells is so pure that ice crystals can’t form. This ultra-pure water can be cooled to -40 degrees F and still remain an ice-free liquid.
Pretty cool, isn’t it?
But what is it that triggers the hardening?
Ah, this is where we can learn a lesson from the trees.
As gardeners know, some plants need their best buddies nearby in order to flourish.
It’s been known for centuries that planting certain combinations of plants together can help the garden prosper. This practice is known as “companion planting.”
For instance, planting alliums such as garlic underneath roses can protect the latter against blackspot and aphids. When lilies and roses are planted together, the scent of each improves.
Yarrow and foxglove have a tonic effect on the plants in their vicinity. Yarrow helps fight off pests, attracts beneficial insects, and improves the soil. Likewise, foxglove stimulates the growth of nearby plants and helps them build up resistance to disease. Planting foxglove under fruit trees improves the storage qualities of the fruit.
Perhaps the ultimate companion plant is marigold. It has traditionally been grown with tomatoes to keep them healthy and produce a better crop. Marigold’s pungent odour disguises the scent of vegetables from pests, preventing them from homing in, and its root secretions kill nematodes that attack plant roots.
Who wouldn’t want such stalwart companions in their corner?
God wants us to have buddies like these on our team, too.
Do you ever think that you could have designed this planet a bit better than God did?
Don’t get me wrong. I love the beauty of God’s Creation: the animals, birds, trees, flowers, oceans, mountains, and starry night sky.
But I have just one quibble….
I think God made far too many of them.
Scientists estimate that there are 10 quintillion bugs on Earth, which works out to well over a billion insects per person.
I find this excessive. All most of them do is bite, sting, or frighten people.
In an ideal world of my creation, there would only be a few select insects. Cute ones like ladybugs and beautiful ones like butterflies would make the cut, but I can do without the rest.
Plus, I’d make a lot more flowers. Sound good?
There’s only one problem with the utopia I’ve designed: what would pollinate the flowers?
Insects are responsible for the vast majority of pollination. In my version of this world, I would have eliminated the very things that make possible productivity in flowering plants.
I think we take the same attitude when it comes to things in our lives that we find unpleasant or demanding.
We want nothing to do with the things that “bug” us.
What is the ultimate flying machine?
The Concorde? A high-tech fighter jet?
I’d suggest to you that the holder of this title belongs to the common swift.
The swift holds the record for the fastest confirmed level flight of any bird: 111.5 km/h (69.3 mph). (Birds like falcons can fly faster, but only when diving down through the air to catch prey.)
Swifts also spend most of their lives on the wing, landing only to nest. Some individuals can spend up to ten months in continuous flight. In a single year a common swift can cover at least 200,000 km. No other bird spends as much of its life in the sky.
They are truly astonishing creatures.
A funny thing about swifts, though: they don’t do very well on the ground.
Their small, weak legs, which are placed far back on their bodies, are really only good for clinging to vertical surfaces like cliffs. They never voluntarily settle on the ground, where they’d be vulnerable to predation. Although swifts are capable of taking flight from level ground, they prefer to “fall” into the air from a high point.
Simply put, swifts were meant to soar.
And so were you.
But oftentimes there are things inhibiting our flight…
When you come home late at night, isn’t it nice when a family member has left a light on for you?
It shows they care about you, and want you to be guided safely back inside.
I was reminded of this recently when I came across a fun fact about border collies, a highly intelligent breed of dog often used to herd sheep.
The border collie usually sports a prominent white tip on its tail. This characteristic colouration is known as the “Shepherd’s Lantern.”
The white tip of the collie’s tail stands out in the dim light of dusk, allowing the shepherd to be guided home from the pasture after a long day’s work.
That got me thinking:
Our Heavenly Father gives us a “lantern,” too.
God loves us and wants to make sure we’re guided home to him.
He does this in two ways:
Pity the poor cormorant.
This ungainly waterfowl is never at the top of anyone’s list of favourite birds.
It looks almost prehistoric, with its matte black feathers and strongly hooked bill. It lacks the beauty of a brightly coloured cardinal or the elegance of a swan.
The cormorant sits unusually low in the water, as though it’s about to sink. And because its wing feathers aren’t waterproof like those of other waterfowl, it needs to stand for long periods with wings outstretched, drying its feathers out in the sun.
It’s clumsy on land, and must expend more energy flying than other birds.
Nothing seems quite right about the cormorant.
Did God make a mistake when he fashioned them?
Not at all!
The cormorant’s lack of waterproofing actually plays to its advantage. Its waterlogged feathers make it less buoyant than ducks, enabling it to dive deeper in search of fish to eat.
Cormorants are excellent divers, agile and swift, with some species being able to dive to an astounding 150 feet.
So its “deficiencies” aren’t actually a bug, but rather a feature.
Do you ever feel like you’re not as good at things as other people? Do you feel as though you simply don’t measure up?
Rest assured, God didn’t make a mistake when he made you.
There’s nothing quite like a perfect fit, is there?
When you buy a piece of clothing that hugs you where it’s supposed to, and is more flowing where you want it to be looser, you feel confident and comfortable. There’s something special about a garment that seems like it was made just for you.
The tailorbird of tropical Asia know this, too. When it fashions a nest for its young, it makes sure it is perfectly suited for its young family.
The female tailorbird makes its nest out of a living leaf hanging from a shrub or tree. She chooses a leaf and carefully checks it for size by wrapping it around her body like a cloak.
If the leaf suits her, she uses her needlelike beak to sew the sides together with plant fibre or spider silk, making as many as 200 stitches.
Once the leaf “cup” has been sewn, the male tailorbird lines it with soft materials in preparation for the eggs that will soon be laid in it. The parent birds make a perfect home for their chicks.
If a tailorbird goes to so much trouble to make nest that is perfectly suited for her family, won’t God make sure that the service He has in mind for you is a perfect fit, too?
Forest fires are fearsome things.
They can lay waste to hundreds of square miles of mature trees and displace wildlife. If they spread to areas of human habitation, they can raze buildings to the ground and devastate communities.
And yet, fires can play an important role in nature. Trying to suppress them too drastically can have a negative effect on the ecology of the forest.
It can backfire, so to speak.
Take the giant sequoia, native to inland California. This majestic tree can live for thousands of years and grow to a height of almost 300 feet.
You’d think that protecting groves of sequoias from fire would help preserve them. But sometimes when we interfere with the natural cycle of fire and regrowth, we do a forest no favours.
The suppression of fire during the last century by U.S. land management authorities actually hobbled the sequoia’s ability to survive. Its seedlings can only grow into mature trees if competing plants are regularly eliminated by low-level forest fires. (The sequoia’s spongy bark helps protect it against fire.)
Not only that, the cones of the sequoia require the intense heat of a forest fire in order to open up and release their cargo of seeds. If the surrounding ground has just been cleared of competing vegetation by fire and enriched with the resultant nutritious ash, the seeds are given an additional leg up to grow.
So the sequoia can only grow to its impressive grandeur with the help of fire.
Perhaps the same is true of us.