Today I asked the nine youths, settling in at The Land under the garden canopy,
“What is this?”
My arms are wide open. I turn my head as far to the right and as far to the left as I can so they can see what “this” I mean.
They are not wrong, I say, but guess again.
I give them a hint, “Where did you come from today?
“A church?” Heads tilting, wondering if this is a trick.
I will rescue them from doubt. Catching them with the proclamation, “Yes! This is a CHURCH!”
I tell them, “I am a pastor to the humans but also to the bunnies and the Meadow Larks and the Hawks and the Prairie Dogs and the Rattlesnakes”…which makes them cringe and jump and contort their faces in frightened positions.
So, we will talk about Rattlesnakes.
I tell them a rattle means
goodbye. It means, “HERE I AM! PLEASE DON’T HURT ME!”
I tell them, “Did you know Rattlesnake moms go a whole year without eating so they can have babies?! Did you know Bull Snakes and Rattlesnakes are friends? Did you know baby rattlesnakes can control their venom and that their venom is less dangerous than adults because it is designed for smaller prey? Did you know that rattlesnakes eat Prairie Dogs?”
That last question is the selfish question. Because now they are hooked. Having swallowed the true story of the most terrifying of predators first.
Now we celebrate the syntax of prairie dog languages and the preciousness of prairie dog nurseries and the promise of the prairie dogs as a keystone species on the prairie.
We look to the North to the trucks blowing black gases into the air as they strip the earth again and again and again and I ask, “How many hours will you be here today?” And they will say three or four or five or six…
I ask, “How many hours will the snakes and the birds and the prairie dogs be here?”
“Forever. This is their home,” one of the youths softly says.
Then her question, “Where will they go, when their homes are all gone?”
“I’m not sure,” is not the answer I will give.
I will not tell them that a bullsnake needs 18 acres and that the antelope needs 100s of acres to survive or that the houses being built for humans by those trucks are the same homes that are being destroyed for our slithering, chirping, flapping siblings.
Now to these sweet-hearts still soft and open to the possibilities of this planet I will declare,
“Right here. This will be their home.”
And we will go on about our day without them ever knowing what the North looked like or what The Land sounded like before the trucks arrived to begin their “earth work.”
At the end of the day, I will ask them their thoughts.
One young one will melt my heart when she says, “I feel so at home here!” which will mean even more when she tells me,
walking back from the sanctuary to the garden,
that her mother recently passed away from cancer.
She will tell me that her father has met another woman who has three sons. She will explain that now there will be six of them and she has worries, like, “how can we find a house big enough for everyone so that no one is left behind…I think we will have to build a house,” she says.
And I smile.
Because she reminds me of my own inescapable entanglement in a world of competing values and inevitable evils.
Because in one short walk she softens and opens my heart and gives me room to breathe in grace and exhale the permission I needed to let go of all that is not mine to hold.