by Kathy Neufeld Dunn, Associate Conference Minister (Kansas-Based)
“Live as children of light…and find out what pleases the Lord” (Ephesians 5.8a, 10).
David Anderson Hooker, a pastor-mediator-attorney-and sometime biology lab assistant, told a parable about sea slugs during AMBS Pastors and Leaders 2019 conference. Sea slugs were created by God to move toward the light. They gently bump up against each other in their eagerness to get to the light (kind of like a high five) and thereby motivate each other to keep going.
Sea slugs may love the light, but they do not like turbulence. If these sea creatures are exposed to too much turbulence too often on their way to the light, they will turn away from the rough waters and the light in search of calm. After a while, if sea slugs see the light, even when they are in calm waters, they will turn away from the light, afraid of what is to come. Generations of sea slugs learn this behavior, to move away from the light, quicker and quicker.
We are too often like sea slugs. Remembering the stories of the turbulence and terror that our 16th C forebears experienced, we would just as soon be “the quiet in the land.” In this day and age, we experience another kind of turbulence that makes us afraid. There is no longer even a veneer of civility on most social media platforms, so we may “lurk” on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, but we do not respond when someone posts a diatribe of vitriol, intended to stir up the waters. We may not even speak out with words of gentle challenge or peace or hope when a friend is being “flamed,” let alone someone we do not know. We just turn off the feed for a while and seek the comfort of Ben & Jerry’s or Netflix or some other “calming” alternative.
There is hope for the sea slugs and for us. Even sea slugs who have been avoiding both turbulence and light for generations can experience transformation. If sea slugs from another group who still move toward the light are introduced to the scared, light-avoidant ones, things can change. As they move through the turbulence, the light-seeking sea slugs bump up gently against the ones who are afraid, encouraging them to turn around, and turn back toward the light, and many do.
Tomorrow will be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The simplest definition of repentance is to turn around. Let us be like the sea slugs and turn back toward the Light. Then, as we are buoyed up by our brother and sisters nearby, may we find the courage to move again toward the Light, and encourage others to do the same, even as we swim in troubled waters.