Of Dung-beetles and stars

This morning I read something that made me stop and say ‘WOW… just WOW’

“Dung beetles use the milky way to navigate”

How AMAZING is that?

Seriously? A tiny little insect that spends its entire life rolling around in poo is so deeply committed to moving in a straight line, it uses the stars to navigate? (Apparently it can also use the sun or the moon but on a moonless night, the milky way will do).

And to think that I can’t even find the milky way in the night sky, let alone navigate by it.

A scientist called Marie Dacke discovered this and reported it in the journal Current Biology in 2013. She won an ‘ignoble’ prize for this research (the opposite of a noble prize because it was deemed trivial) which I think is grossly unfair  because it’s a mind-blowing piece of information.

Now the book  of Proverbs tells us to consider the ant and Jesus told us to look at the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields. Neither one mentioned dung beetles, but I’m  sure they have a lot to teach us.

Not that I need to learn how to navigate by night using the stars. What this creature teaches me is that it possible to live by something of which I may have only a little comprehension. The dung beetle has no concept of ‘the planet’, let alone space, stars, galaxies etc but it knows enough to use the light that it finds to walk in a straight line.

Similarly some days my comprehension of God ‘immortal, invisible, incomprehensible and all that’ feels about as good as the dung beetle’s grasp on the planetary system. Basically both of us might not understand a lot but we know enough to live by.

God is love

God loves me

I need to love God and love other people.

This is ‘enough light to live by’. I know that great theologians, like great scientists can study the complexities of their subject and, don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the fruits of their labour. I’m not anti intellectual – especially when intellectuals can explain their ideas in short sentences, with a minimum number of sub-clauses and maximum number of monosyllabic words.

But on your average day, what I most need is to keep a firm grip on the basics of living the Christian life. Walking the walk will do more to make me Christlike than any amount of polishing my beliefs in the hopes of improving my theoretical understanding of a being who will always be beyond my comprehension.

I am reminded of a quote from  C S Lewis, whose intellectual abilities were rarely questioned,

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else’

People need presence more than knowledge – wrote Mark Yaconelli in one of my favourite books Contemplative Youth Ministry. ‘to often we love to debate, defend, protect or promote God, we praise or serve God but we have little patience for actually spending time with God’.

When the Old Testament character Job suffered so much for no apparent reason, his three friends came and spoke to him ABOUT God but over and over again it was Job who talked TO God and when God replied he didn’t explain his plan instead he revealed his character.  We are more comforted by the presence of a God who cares enough to be with us, than we are satisfied by a neat theological answer.

Christianity is not a collection of truths that one has to believe, of laws one has to keep, a list of prohibitions. That would be repugnant. Christianity is a person who loved me so much that he demands my love. Christianity is Christ ‘ (Archbishop Oscar Romero).

I prefer the word ‘compel’ to the word ‘demand’. Christ, who came to reveal God, who shared in the pain of a fractured creation by allowing himself to be crucified, this is the love that I find compelling. And it is the love that gives me the light to live by.

I’m only a dung-beetle after all.


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