Listening to more than language

(Sunrise, Queenstown 9 July 2021)

How much communication are you aware of happening around you?

I read an astonishing story recently in “The Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben.  Umbrella Acacias in Africa produce a toxin when giraffes start to eat them. Scientists noticed that once giraffes got a taste of the toxin, they would move trees – not to the next nearest tree, but would wander a considerable distance away before recommencing their feeding. After some study, the scientists worked out that the trees were sending a warning signal in the form of a gas to signal to neighbouring trees that danger was at hand and they should protect themselves by pumping toxin to their leaves. The giraffes had learnt to head further out to trees that had not been warned.

Communication is something so inherent in our human experience, but we tend to think only of spoken and written language in its many forms.

In holidaying in Aotearoa / New Zealand, I have enjoyed hearing and reading prayers in Maori in Anglican services and in the prayer book. Particularly on this last day of NAIDOC Week, I wonder how we could find ways to include more of  Aboriginal languages in our prayers and place names? There is such cause to lament the wisdom we are losing about our country, its peoples and cultures as language disappears.

As the tree story shows, communication is also constantly happening in ways other than spoken language and by species other than human. In Ephesians this Sunday we read that the Spirit has “with all wisdom and insight made known to us the mystery of God’s will” and that this is to “gather up all things, in heaven and earth”.

How do you learn of the ways of God that is for all creation? Reading scripture, praying and listening to the words of others who tell of their insights in the multiple languages and cultures of the Spirit’s voice are ways of hearing the wisdom of God. But we can also pay attention to the earth – leaning in to listen to the mountains and rivers, to trees and birdsong, to the seas and the earth, the sun, moon and stars – and all they have to teach.

Perhaps this kind of attention may teach us greater insights and help us to live more humbly, recognising a God who is bigger than we might have imagined, speaking in and through a world of great beauty and complexity.

Grace and peace,

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