I have kind of a thing for banana slugs which are native to the redwood forests of the west coast. The second-largest species of terrestrial slug in the world, they are fascinating. One could hardly imagine a creature on land that is more alien to human existence. Among other things, they are all hermaphroditic (male and female at once). They have bright yellow color, long, slimy bodies and leave a glistening, sticky trail behind them. But, in their way, they are beautiful and move with a slow-motion grace. And they play an important role in the ecosystem of which they are part.
Several years ago, while on sabbatical, I enjoyed hiking around beautiful Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park in Felton, California where I occasionally encountered banana slugs. One day I was sitting on the bank of the San Lorenzo River which runs through the park. I was enjoying the sound of the water below and the breeze rusting in the leaves above, delighting in the play of light through the trees and on the water, and the feel of sun and breeze on my skin. To my left I noticed a banana slug resting on the trunk of a tree.
As I sat admiring the slug, it occurred to me that we were encountering one another for just a moment in our respective lives. To be honest, I don’t know how aware the slug was of me. But, I recognized that just as I had been up to things before sharing this space and time with this particular slug and would eventually leave and get on with my human life, the slug had been living its slug life before our paths crossed and would continue after I left.
I wondered what the slug’s life was like. In what bodily pleasures did it delight? What pain had it experienced? Did it have desires and fears? I tried to imagine this slug enjoying the feel of sun or rain on its back, the taste of whatever food it enjoyed. I wondered what banana slug romance might be like. Then I thought, “Here we are in each other’s presence and I am wondering all these things about you–and I do not even know your name." That was followed immediately by, "Ah, but, God does. Before and after our encounter, God was paying attention to you. God delights in your existence moment by moment."
At that point I had one of the handful of mystical-like experiences I have had in my life. I became acutely aware of my being intimately and inseparably connected with this particular banana slug and all other creatures. As a fellow creature participating in the wonder of life and held in the gaze of God’s delight, this slug and I were profoundly related to one another and to the trees and deer and fish and all else.
Humans, created in the image of God and charged with stewardship of God’s creation, have a special place in that creation. But, it is imperative that we never forget that we are also part of that creation and all other creatures. We are related to everything because everything is related to God. The rest of creation is not there just of our use and consumption. Each other part of creation has its own integrity as the creature of God. Every part of creation deserves our respect and reverence. And it requires our care – for its own sake as well as ours.
God delights in the banana slug and as a fellow creature it is my sibling. Not in the same way as is another human being, but my sibling just the same, and thus worthy of my delight, reverence, and gentle regard.
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