The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.
When something is altered at the top of the food chain reactions flow downward to the lowest levels of ecology. In 1980, Marine Ecologist Robert Paine coined the term ‘trophic cascade’ to describe this phenomenon.
An example of this process was the abolition and reintroduction of the gray wolf into Yellowstone Park. During the first 20 years of the 20th century it became a primary governmental intent to rid the national park of this top-of-the-food-chain predator. In 1926, with our short-sighted thinking and limited awareness, we succeeded.
Almost immediately changes occurred. The Elk, no longer hunted by the wolves, began to invade the valleys and gorges to feed instead of staying in the forests, which had given them some protection from the wolves.
For the next 70 years Yellowstone underwent the dereliction of many forms of vegetation and trees in the valleys, foothills, and river banks. The Elk’s continued overfeeding and overpopulation also caused the displacement of several species from the park as their food sources disappeared.
By 1995, our understanding of ecological systems had grown, and effort was made to reintroduce the wolf into Yellowstone. Again, almost immediately changes occurred. Of course, the wolves killed some of the Elk, but more impactful, the wolves changed where the Elk fed. The herds no longer inhabited the valleys and the gorges where they were easy prey for the wolves; they moved back to the more protected forested areas.
Once the Elk were gone from the valleys, the indigenous vegetation quickly regenerated; Willow, Aspen, and Cottonwood forests returned to the valleys and foothills. Once these trees returned, songbirds and migratory birds began nesting and feeding in the park again. Bald Eagles, Golden Eagles, jays, martens, and magpies reappeared as they scavenged on wolf kills.
Also feeding on the carrion, as well as on the berries of the new trees were bears, and their populations began to rise. They supported the effects that wolves had on the massive Elk herds by killing some of the Elk calves.
Once the Willows returned there was an insurgence of beavers once again to the park. Their dams had a substantial benefit on the watershed, balancing the ponds and run-off and providing habitation for fish. Their ponds also reduced erosion and provided yet another habitat: marshlands, which brought back moose, otter, wading birds, waterfowl, amphibians, and fish.
The wolves balanced the coyote population, which allowed the rabbit and mice populations to be restored, which meant more hawks, weasels, badgers, and foxes came to the park.
Additionally, in the valleys the wolves began to claim kills by mountain lions, which motivated the cougars to move back to their more natural mountainside environment.
In addition to the ecological effects the wolf presence had, they also created made geographic changes on the park. As trees grew along the rivers the banks stabilized; the rivers meandered less, pools formed, there was less erosion, channels narrowed so the banks collapsed less often and became more fixed in their course. The rivers changed in response to the wolves.
There was also less erosion on the valley sides because of the re-growth of vegetation and trees. The presence of the wolf in Yellowstone had a balancing effect on the entire ecosystem and also a physical effect on the geography of the park.
This description illustrates a couple of themes that are dear to me: first, the Universe seeks and finds balance; and second, through our growing awareness, we make a difference.
It is one thing for a species to die out for evolutionary reasons, which is how most species become extinct: they simply cannot survive in changing conditions or against a superior competitor. But Nature finds a way to fill that void through what is called speciation, where a new species evolves to fill a particular ecological niche. This is natural; this is balance.
Balance is difficult to attain when a species is removed from an ecosystem through unnatural means, as in humankind eliminating the Yellowstone wolf. It leaves a void, which Nature struggles to fill, and things can get out of balance for a while.
The same is true of our personal spiritual natures. God has built balance, and the desire for balance, into our being. It is one of the qualities of being a Child of God. When we experience loss, we grieve. There is balance there.
We are not created to be ever joyful. The profound wisdom of Ecclesiastes Chapter 3:1-8. In the abridged version: 1 There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: 2 a time to be born and a time to die, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to love and a time to hate.
To me, this is balance. We can live in a state of joy, but there will be times when we are not joyful. For me personally, what matters is where I go as a default -- when things are running normally in my life -- do I live in joy and love or fear and suspicion? There will be a time for fear, but do I live there?
It is my belief that we are made for peace, joy, and love...that is our nature in Christ, that is the natural state of our spiritual existence. While here on earth, it is our challenge to remain in that state as much as possible. Let us experience our grief, and then return to joy and contentment. Let us experience our fear, but return to love.
When living without Spirit’s presence, it is like the wolf being removed from Yellowstone Park -- we begin to suffer a Trophic Cascade; but this is a worldly cascade.
Without God present in our hearts and lives, we begin looking at events and people around us as adversaries. We are filled with suspicion and doubt and fear. We treat others that way and emanate negativity and exclusion when we are around people. In return, they treat us harshly, which reinforces our own feelings and attitudes. As we teach this to our children, these feelings perpetuate.
There is a downward flow of earthly emotion and reasoning. Finally, we become controlled by the ego, which says it’s me against you; in fact there is no ‘you’, there is only ‘me’. Our morality erodes, and we are left with just the shell of a body and a self-centric exclusionary mindset.
At times like this, it is necessary to reinsert the wolf back into Yellowstone; we allow Spirit to reawaken our hearts and minds. Of course, this begins with prayer; it begins with intent, with surrender, with refocusing, with making different choices. The result of communing with God in our minds and hearts and allowing Christ to move through us is to find balance and expand awareness. Our smaller self diminishes, and our larger Self emerges once again.
The other theme that I draw from the wolf story is that we make a difference. Yes, it is obvious that humankind is at the top of the food chain, so anything that we do -- positive or negative -- affects all the rest of life. As a species, we make a difference; we matter.
At least we consider ourselves at the top of this hierarchy of ecological existence. And I would agree that when it comes to something as worldly as a food chain, we might be at the top. There could be rivals I suppose, like the Grizzly Bear or Sasquatch. We can pretty much eliminate any competitor that comes along and don’t mind doing so, even if it happens to be other human beings, it seems.
I would propose that we have been called to rise above our current position in the food chain to an uncommon path. Poet Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. … I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Christ gently pulls us along the path of becoming a piece of the puzzle that when reinserted into Life creates an upward spiritual cascade.
Ephesians 2:10 teaches this: For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
The irony is that most often we have no idea that our insertion into a situation or someone’s life creates this cascade of positive effects. We are often unaware of the balance that we produce.
Despite not knowing the results of our influence and what impact we make, we have been called to be a mother, a father, an aunt or uncle, a friend, a teacher, a supporter, an angel. We have been called to be a helper, a server, a co-worker, a hero. We have been called to reach out, to smile, to pray for others, to offer our hand, our heart, our talents, our kindness, and our forgiveness. We have been called to experience and share joy, peace, love, courage, hope, patience, wisdom, discernment, and compassion. We have been called to be exactly who we are, where we are, and as such, we are important, an integral part of God’s plan.
1 Peter 4:10
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.
The path we choose makes a difference, and God watches our choices, assembling the best results from our decisions. When living in the world we may be at the top of the ecological system, but there is only one thing at the top of God’s system, and that is Love. Without Love, there is no balance in life. Without Love in our own lives, everything degrades and is unstable; there is a trophic cascade within our lives. It is my prayer that we will expect wonderful things to happen and experience breathtaking renewal just by reinserting Love into our hearts, attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors as we face our challenges.
This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24
Through the Grace of God, today – right now -- as a species, as a congregation, as an individual …we are called to make a difference. I pray that we heed that call.