By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
They greet me at the back door of my house on summer days, these long, green insects that appear to be in a posture of prayer. Commonly known as “praying mantis,” these pre-historic, dinosaur-looking bugs are known to “eat almost anything, including each other,” according to “Gardening Know How” by Bonnie L. Grant. Their front legs, in their classic prayer position, are such that they can capture unsuspecting insects that pass by.
At summer’s end, the female praying mantis lays a sack of eggs on a branch of a bush or a tree before the first frost. She covers them with a frothy foam known as “ootheca.” This foam hardens into a shell that protects the eggs from predators, winter cold and parasites. Through the cold winter the young praying mantis inside the cocoon feeds on this protein substance of the ootheca. There are as many as 400 praying mantis babies in each cocoon. (“Amazing Praying Mantis Egg Case” by Debbie Hadley).
Last week while walking around the front yard of the house, I spotted a cocoon on the bare branch of a Rose of Sharon bush. In the late summer when the mother insect laid her eggs, it was hidden by the green leaves of the bush. When all the leaves of the bush came down in autumn, the cocoon was easy to see, but it took this sequestered time of sheltering in place for me to take notice of it.
Lately I’ve noticed a lot of things I was too busy to see. With warmer weather on the way, a new batch of these praying insects will soon be greeting me. And on and on, the circle of life continues.
During this time when we are ordered to stay at home to prevent the spread of this COVID-19 pandemic, there are myriad emotions swirling inside my head. These include:
· sadness for the continual escalating number of COVID-19 cases and deaths;
· concern about church finances and the potential remedy of bank loans;
· adjustments to a new way of leading churches and conducting personal affairs;
· concern for vulnerable family members and friends; and
· wondering about the future of the church with the postponement of our 2020 General Conference.
It feels like we are in a cocoon some days, not able to get out, except for trips to the food store and other essential places.
The God who tenderly cares for the praying mantis cocoon with nourishing proteins and a protective cover is there for you as well during this time. I Peter 5:7 reminds us “Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.”
Spend time in prayer and study of the Scriptures. Read devotional materials, and view some of the many photo and video postings on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. Feed on the Word of God for nourishing insights, direction, and encouragement.
Pray fervently for those who live or work in harm’s way, for the isolated, for the confused and depressed, and for those experiencing domestic violence behind closed doors. Practice fasting, give generously to help others, and adhere to the necessity of a healthy Sabbath rest. This imposition of sheltering can be a workshop for spiritual growth in the protracted “cold winter” of this unprecedented, crisis.
I am aware of the many among us who are not able to stay at home, those who are employed in serving their communities in many self-sacrificing ways. I say to you as well: Remain strong in the Lord, and draw from your practice of faith disciplines the spiritual and physical resources you need for your tasks.
Like the praying mantis in the summer sun, be a prayerful presence wherever you go, witnessing to the love of God among people who are in pain and under stress. Praying mantis insects “catch” their prey with their praying legs. We Christians are not predatory; but Jesus calls us to be “fishers of people.” (Matthew 4:19) We can “catch” people for God with our loving acts of mercy, patience and gentleness out in the world.
May God bless you all!