From a Dead Horse
How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104:24
Delicate strands of dew, like a jeweled net, sparkle before me as I walk down the path of the forest at the Shalom Center in central Chile.
How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. Psalm 104:24
Delicate strands of dew, like a jeweled net, sparkle before me as I walk down the path of the forest at the Shalom Center in central Chile. A spider has been working all night, spinning and sending strands that connect a leaf here, a branch there, and a twig somewhere just out of sight overhead. The web spans across the path, and I choose to sit in the morning sun meditating on this natural tapestry rather than tear my way through the sticky masterpiece. It is the web that begins to weave together experiences, thoughts, and questions in my mind. I have always known, intuitively, that everything and everyone was connected in an intricate pattern, but in the past few years, as I have begun my personal and professional search for Shalom, the mysteries of the web of life have glistened in a new light.
Like the spider spinning a beautiful and complex weaving, the entire universe is connected through invisible threads of interdependence. I can imagine the Creator at the beginning of time delighting in balancing and counter-balancing galaxies, suns, planets, gases, minerals, microbes, plants, and animals. Every part of creation formed in perfect synchrony with every other part; each unique and whole and yet an essential piece of something greater. Nature, with its spectacular sunsets, cascading waterfalls, rhythmic ocean waves, and new born butterflies is the evidence of God’s unfolding dream of Shalom for all that was created.
Nature teaches us to look for the evidence of God’s handiwork in the least likely places. As I look more closely at the spider web across the path, the shell of a dead fly caught in the sticky strands of the web and sucked dry by the spider, I am reminded of a strange encounter with shalom.
When we were searching through the foothills of the Andes Mountains for the property where the Shalom Center would be established, my brother and I visited a piece of land on the Duqueco River in south-central Chile. As we approached the sloping hills covered with trees, my heart began to race with excitement. I caught sight of the snowcapped volcanoes in the distance and the river gently winding its way through a valley patched by trees and open spaces. Could this be the perfect place for a camp, retreat center, and nature reserve?
The first thing we smelled, just inside the property gate, was a dead horse. Even from a distance, its rotting stench and disgusting appearance marred the awe-inspiring scenery. But as we walked past the carcass, I experienced an extraordinary shift in perspective. Suddenly, I noticed that the forests on this land and on all the surrounding hillsides were not forests at all but pine tree plantations, exotic imports to Chile for timber production. The soil, as often happens under the stress of constant planting and clear cutting, was severely eroded. The acid from the pine needles had changed the composition of the soil and there were few bushes, plants, or flowers. The enormous patches of open areas were actually spaces denuded of all vegetation with left over trunks and branches piled high ready to be burned. The water in the river was muddied by the erosion of the soil, and there were dead fish and piles of garbage along its shores. It was the silence, however, that stopped me in my tracks and made me turn slowly around. I could not hear any birds sing or insects hum. Only the wind wept softly in the pine branches. The hills that seemed so pristine and splendid from a distance, up close became a virtual wasteland.
And the dead horse. . . I looked at it up close, too, as I walked by pinching my nose. The maggots and bugs were doing their work, and I could see some kind of bird, perhaps and Andean Condor but more likely a vulture, circling far overhead. Soon the carrion would completely decompose and become part of the nutrients in the soil to give new life. Nothing would be wasted, and nature would complete its efficient and enriching clean-up work. What seemed from afar to be a picture perfect image, turned out to be the tragic forces of destruction at work. What seemed at first to be the putrid smell of decay, actually was the power of life, hope, and restoration in action. What may seem to be shalom, turns out to be injustice masquerading as peace or untruth deceiving in the name of mercy. What may seem to be the desperate and irreparable stench of death, may actually be the healthy process of transformation giving birth to reconciliation, hope, harmony, and well-being. What may seem to be the end of the story, the shattering of dreams, may be the prelude to the glories of the resurrection.
The sun has almost dried the dew on the spider web, and the spider appears to repair a strand that has unraveled during the night. I decide it is time to continue on my hike, but not without first thanking the spider for the pause along the path and the opportunity for musings and reflections. I am beginning to understand how shalom is God’s delicate web of creation is spun anew with exquisite and surprising threads even in the midst of the brokenness of careless humans bumbling along the path.
Elena Huegel is a missionary with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist.