I have added a new habit to my day: listening to and participating in the morning services of prayer and reflection shared by Washington National Cathedral. Those fifteen minutes are a blessing to me, and often a source of new insights into matters of faith, life, and in one service, locusts.
The Rev. Dana Colley Corsello reflected on Isaiah 40: 21 – 31 during the service on Feb. 9, 2021. In verse 21 the inhabitants of the Earth are “grasshoppers” because from the Divine perspective, we are tiny, and numerous. And grasshoppers, like each one of us mortals, is “fearfully and wonderfully made” grasshoppers communicate by creating songs with their back legs, have five eyes, and ears on their bellies.
Here’s the fascinating thing: a few special types of grasshoppers are triggered into locusts by an unusual amount of rainfall and moisture, they sense each other as they increase in numbers. “They change their physiology. Their brain changes, their coloration changes, their body size changes. Instead of repelling one another, they become attracted to one another — and if these conditions persist in the environment, they start to march together in coordinated formations across the landscape, ….” Pranav Baskar, “Locusts Are a Plague of Biblical Scope in 202. Any? And … What Are They Exactly” npr.org, June 14, 2020
In my experience, humans are less triggered by an unusual amount of rainfall, and more likely triggered by fear and a sense of scarcity. All of life becomes a competition and the world is divided into winners and losers, rather than a sense that “we’re all in this together” [the motto of one of my heroes, Red Green].
When life is considered a zero-sum equation, so that if you get more that means I get less, each day is full of threats instead of opportunities. The craving to join up with other fearful people to act on your anxieties can become irresistible.
Most days I’m a pretty cheerful grasshopper, grateful to be a human being in the image of God, with a complex and functioning body. And I feel safe, safe in the knowledge that I am loved, supported, and that I will not be a loser because someone else is doing well. But I do have an inner locust, a part of me that is processing wounds and fears. When I don’t feel safe, I will protect myself, even if that protection is self-destructive.
One of my relaxation meditations repeats the phrase, “It’s safe to lose the weight”, “it’s safe”. Many of us with weight issues have them in part so we would have a fluffy barrier between ourselves and casual cruelties from people we’ve encountered, dealing with painful memories, abuse we’ve experienced, or being alone with our stress, anger, or loneliness. Reducing that protective barrier makes us feel vulnerable, and finding a new way, a healthier way, to feel safe becomes crucial. Which is why support groups , friends, and faith are so powerful. When I, when most of us, don’t feel safe, we act less like grasshoppers and more like locusts.
I’ve wondered how negativity, racism, and conspiracies seem to take hold. I’m wondering if under certain conditions, a “fearfully and wonderfully made” human being stops feeling safe. He or she discovers others , perhaps through the web, who also may have had an experience of being bullied by a particular person, feel threatened by the success of a woman, or a person of color gets a job they wanted. They feel robbed of what they imagined they were entitled to have. Having made contact with each other, they feed off each other’s prejudices, and dismiss those who think differently. Their fears and resentments fester and ferment as the fresh breeze from a different perspective is missing. And voila, locusts are born and began to march together across our society.
Fear, anxiety, and sense of scarcity can turn us into locusts who are willing to tear down others in order to get what we need. All from a false sense of scarcity., and a craving to feel safe at any cost.
There is an alternative, and possible ways to reduce anxiety within ourselves and our society. That’s for Part 3 of March-ing On.
In the meantime, take these words to heart: “Be kind. Everyone you meet today is dealing with some kind of struggle.”
Today’s Prayer Poem is from the book of poems, Invocations: Calling on the God in All, by Richard Skinner, (Wild Goose Publications, 2005
O Dung Beetle
forager in filth,
cleanser of ordure and all that befouls,
your body the chamber of change;
you are the purification:
come, forage in the dung of our decisions,
transmute the harmful and hurtful.
Grace and peace,