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By Nan Smith
“Isaiah 43:2 (CEB)
2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
when through the rivers, they won’t sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you won’t be scorched
and flame won’t burn you.
When the shot was fired, the wolf pups scattered in all directions and the mother wolf fell to the ground. For Aldo Leopold, a conservation officer in the 1950s, it was business as usual. He was just doing his job – systematically removing the top predators in the White Mountains of Arizona. The reasoning of the time was fewer predators meant more deer and more deer meant happy hunters.
We know better now.
Leopold hiked up the mountain trail to make sure that the adult wolf was indeed dead. Kneeling down upon the hard soil, he looked into the eyes of the dying wolf and saw within them an intense green fire – a green fire that held the wisdom of the wolf, an understanding of her place and right to be upon that mountain. He watched as the light slowly faded and then was gone.
As Leopold would recount later in his book, The Sand County Almanac, “I was young then, and full of trigger-itch: I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.”[i]
When Leopold hiked back down that mountain his emotions were strong. He couldn’t shake the memory of the green fire. That experience changed him.He came down that mountain a different person. What he had believed was true and right began to shift within him. He found himself asking the deeper questions. It was an epiphany for Leopold. A pivotal moment, as he considered the practice of indiscriminately killing off the top predators. Was it an unhealthy environmental practice? Was it ethically suspect?
That day was the start, the beginning seeds of Leopold’s idea of an interrelated land ethic. An idea he would flush out and develop and would eventually lead to the birth of the modern science of wildlife management.
A dying wolf, an intense green fire, a life-changing moment, where old ways of being were changed and a new way of being was emerging.
As we move into this new year, I have found myself drawn to this story. In the midst of all the Happy New Year messages I received, I read variations on the sentiment that now that we have a vaccine on the horizon, our lives will finally return back to “normal” soon. That we will pick up where we left off before all the upheaval of this pandemic. That we will return to business as usual.
I beg to differ.
Make no mistake. We are not the same people that we were in March. Nor are our faith communities. Just like Leopold, our understandings, our priorities have been challenged and have changed. What we thought was important has been tempered by this pandemic. We are people who have walked and are walking through the deep waters, who have been scorched and are still being touched by the fire.
When the Israelites returned from their exile, they too were changed people. They too had walked through the deep waters, had been touched by the fire. There was much they needed to process about who they would be going forward. How would they live their lives differently, given their experiences of exile?
The same holds true for us. Things will be different, because we are different. And just as Eric Rucker encouraged us in last week’s message to lift up and honor our laments from 2020, I also think it is important to reflect on how we have been touched by this pandemic. It will be important to spend time sifting through what we have learned and determine what we need to let go and what we need to carry forward.
Perhaps, within the anguish and the despair of 2020, a new way of being is emerging. Perhaps, within this life-changing season are the seeds for the new ways God is leading us forward, both as individuals and the church.