When I was a little girl, I loved to explore in the woods.
One day I came across a cicada clinging to a tree trunk. Except this insect didn’t look alive: its body was transparent, and it never moved.
What was wrong with the cicada, I wondered?
I finally realized that I wasn’t looking at a live bug, but rather at its discarded exoskeleton.
When it’s time for a nymph cicada to turn into an adult, it clings to a tree and sheds its outer body. The abandoned shell remains, still clinging to the bark of the tree, while the “reborn” cicada flies off.
My mistake that day?
I was looking for the living among the dead.
Some of the Jesus’ followers made the same error.
There’s no place like home, is there?
A lot of animals would agree with that statement, if they could speak.
Many birds and animals have an uncanny “homing instinct” that allows them to travel thousands of miles to return to the very same location each year.
Monarch butterflies from eastern North America return to the same wintering grounds in central Mexico each year, even to the very same forest.
Sea-dwelling Pacific salmon return to the same river they were born in to spawn.
Pregnant sea turtles migrate thousands of miles across the ocean to lay their eggs on the same beach on which they were born decades earlier.
And then there are homing pigeons, the champions of long-distance way-finding. Their homing instincts are so reliable that they’ve been used in wartime to deliver crucial messages over enemy lines.
But how do they do it?
One theory suggests that homing pigeons may have a mineral called magnetite in their beaks, which acts as a tiny GPS unit. This would allow them to sense the earth’s magnetic fields and their own position in relation to it. If true, it would mean that these birds are essentially flying compasses, with their beaks pointing them in the direction they should go.
It makes me wonder: do humans have a “homing instinct”?
A beautiful red cardinal has been singing heartily outside my window the past week, as though it’s already spring.
My hibiscus houseplant has broken its winter dormancy and is putting forth flower buds.
But there’s still snow on the ground, and there’s bound to be more snow coming. This is Canada, after all, and it’s only March. It’s still cold enough outside to need a winter coat.
Doesn’t seem like spring to me.
Do the cardinal and the hibiscus know something I don’t?
In fact, they do. They sense the lengthening of the day and the increased hours of sunlight, things that have escaped my notice.
They know that spring is on its way, even if I can’t see it coming just yet.
In the same way, God knows a thing or two that we don’t.
He knows when a turnaround in our situation on its way, even if we can’t see any evidence of a change in the offing.
He knows that our “spring” is coming.
If you have ever owned a cat (or have been owned by one), you’ll know that if you want to find the warmest, most comfortable place in your home, just follow the cat.
Cats unerringly zero in on the most comfortable spot in your house. They’re not above stealing your favourite chair or displacing you from your own bed in their quest for comfort.
Our feline friends consistently find the sunniest windowsill on which to perch or a warm heating vent in the floor over which to drape themselves. They’ll snuggle into the coziest, most protected part of the sofa, or stake out a claim on the most comfy lap.
Cats are masters at pinpointing zones of highest comfort.
But if you’re in need of comfort, reassurance, love and protection, where do you find it?
Follow the people who know the Source of all comfort.
It’s good to keep in touch with those you love, isn’t it?
Even birds know this.
Birds will engage in what are called “contact calls” with their mate or others in their flock. Unlike a bird’s song, a call is usually shorter and quieter. The purpose of contact calls is to maintain a continuous connection and to keep track of where each bird is located.
The Northern Cardinal, for instance, makes a brief metallic “chip” sound to keep tabs on its mate’s location when they’re both foraging for food. The mate will respond with the same call as reassurance that they’re nearby and that all is well.
We humans engage in the same type of behaviour. We’ll often make a short phone call or send a quick text to a loved one to keep track of how they’re doing and to reassure them that we’re all right.
I think our Creator would appreciate getting a “contact call” from us on a regular basis, too.
Do you ever get a bit anxious when faced with something completely new?
Like how to find a new job in an economy that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before? Or how to navigate a world that’s turned upside-down?
Many of us shrink from the prospect of entering uncharted territory.
And we’re not the only ones: even some animals balk when confronted with something unfamiliar.
Cows are notorious for disliking disruptions to their routines and environments. They’re particularly averse to new gates. Cows are made so nervous by new entrances and openings that they’ll stubbornly resist going through them.
This trait is so well known that it’s given rise to the phrase, “like a cow looking at a new gate.” It means to view something with bewilderment and confusion, as though to say, “Are you serious? I’m not going through that.”
Do you feel this way when faced with the uncertainties that the new year may bring? Is fear of the unknown keeping you from stepping forward in faith to realize your dreams?
Fear has a way of paralyzing us, so that we stay stuck where we are instead of trying something new.
But we needn’t be afraid.
God will go through the gate ahead of us.
How have you been sleeping recently? Do you find yourself waking at night, worried about the future?
Wish you could sleep as soundly as your pet?
Cats and dogs have an advantage when it comes to sleeping deeply. They’re predator animals: in the wild, canines and felines are hunters. Large predator mammals generally spend more time in deep non-REM sleep than their prey.
Prey animals such as rabbits or deer, the hunted, spend more time in lighter non-REM sleep. They also experience very little REM sleep at all. Their survival is dependent on being permanently alert, and the paralysis of REM sleep would make them too vulnerable to their predators.
I wonder if the poor sleep we humans often experience relates to our feeling “hunted,” relentlessly chased by worries, deadlines, and obligations?
Is there a way we can calm our anxious minds and get a good night’s rest?
Yes! I believe the Bible offers some tips to help us sleep better.
Winter can be a lonely time, can’t it?
The joyful symphony of birdsong that graced the spring and summer months has diminished. In these parts, most birds have already flown south for the winter by now. The backyards and parks seem unnaturally quiet, with nary a chirp to be heard.
It can leave us feeling bereft, like we’re all alone.
But we’re never as alone as we might think, as we’ll see from some encouraging accounts in the Bible.
Birds, like humans, have different quirks.
Some birds like to have everything “just so” before they sing.
The time of day has to be just right, they have to be perched at the top of just the right tree, or they have to be within earshot of a desirable mate.
They would never think of singing if the conditions weren’t to their liking, or if they were busy doing something else at the time, like flying.
Other birds aren’t quite so picky.
Take the American goldfinch, for example.
This handsome little songbird has some unusual traits. One of them is that his flight pattern resembles a roller-coaster instead of a level path.
Another is that the goldfinch is perfectly happy singing while he’s flying.
He doesn’t wait until just the right circumstances fall into place—this yellow fellow sings while he goes about his daily business.
Perhaps we can take a page from the goldfinch’s book?
A chickadee may have a bird-brain, but it can actually be pretty smart.
Especially if it lives in a harsh climate.
What does climate have to do with bird intelligence? As it turns out, more than you’d expect.
Biologists have discovered that chickadees living in the mountains or in northern latitudes, where the weather is more severe, were smarter than their peers living more comfortably down below.
Chickadees from harsher habitats had superior spatial memories and problem-solving abilities than those living in gentler climes. They were better at finding stored caches of food and at figuring out how to access a worm treat that scientists had cleverly tucked into a glass tube.
The harsh environment makes their brains work a bit harder.
Is there a lesson for humans in the example of the chickadees?
Yes, but it isn’t to move to a more wintry climate (take it from a Canadian who’s done her share of shovelling snow—it hasn’t made me smarter!).
The takeaway here is that there can be unseen benefits to the challenges we face.