Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Table talk – 4

Stick with bats and boas, says Margaret.

And indeed there are plenty of bats and boas in this blog.

But I don't need anything as exotic as a bat or boa. Take this ant that is crawling across the table. So tiny I couldn't tell it's a creature if it weren't moving. With my x10 magnifier it is manifestly creaturely. Legs. Antennae. And all the rest that I know is there; sensory apparatus, nervous system, mouth, digestive system, anus. Fully animated. In a package almost as small as this period.

Have you ever seen Bert Holldobler and E. O. Wilson's Ants, that big doorstop of a book, everything formic? I had a copy once, a pre-publication review copy. I spent a happy week in that teeming formicary. By the end of the week I knew as much about ants as a curious person might wish to know. And yet now, just now, as I track the ant with my magnifier, my inclination is to shout "hallelujah," to compose a litany of praise, to offer up a prayer of thanks (to whom? or what? it doesn't matter). 746 pages of naturalism (thanks Bert and Ed!) and my inclination is to fall to my knees mumbling something like Deo gratias.

And that's were the "religious" kicks in. I don't need the Deo for the gratias. When we were kids, we practiced something called "adoration of the Blessed Sacrament." The consecrated Eucharist was displayed in a sunburst monstrance in the darkened church –- the body of Christ, God incarnate -– and we were taught to cultivate a sense of awe, thanksgiving, praise. It was a lesson I see no reason to jettison, although now I am more inclined to "adoration" of the living ant than a piece of bread.

Awe, thanksgiving, praise: Why not? Naturalism vastly illuminates the ant, those 746 pages of science. And vastly increases my sense that every living thing -– bat, boa, ant -– is a natural monstrance, radiantly worthy of a response that might cautiously be called "religious."