It was a thrilling moment in the African bush. As evening settled, we came upon a herd of female kudu (a spindle-legged moose-like antelope) grazing in the grass. A little farther ahead, a bull elephant browsed in a stand of trees. Around another turn, the dirt track let out onto a dry riverbed, where five lions filed toward us and brushed up against our truck as they passed. We turned the vehicle around and followed behind them.
The lions sauntered up toward the animals we'd just seen. As the lead female came near the elephant, she suddenly froze. She'd caught the scent of the kudu. As if on cue, the five cats fanned slowly into the thicket, the elephant still browsing nonchalantly to our right.
The rest happened in an instant. From the treetops a gray lourie - sometimes called a "go away" bird because of the call it makes at the sight of danger - let out its rasping cry. One kudu answered with a warning bark. The lions bolted after their prey, but their cover had been blown, and the hunt ended in a miss.
It's hard to imagine that within a few decades scenes like this could be little more than fading memories. Earth is now experiencing its sixth mass extinction. The first five, which took place millions of years ago, resulted from natural catastrophes. This time the culprit is humankind.
Various studies suggest that our planet could lose as many as one million species - a quarter of all estimated plants and animals - by 2050, because of human growth and activity. We may already be losing up to 100,000 species each year. Globally, forests are disappearing at a rate of an acre a second. That's a pretty bleak outlook, especially for the billions of poor people who rely directly on nature for food and shelter.
Of course, the news isn't all bad. Reflecting the corrective effect of compassion, conservation programs have enabled the once endangered bald eagle, for example, to recover. But a lot more needs to be done - and can be done.
For me, two ideas are proving helpful in taking a spiritual, prayer-based approach to this issue. The first is a view of creation as spiritually intact. The Psalmist expressed it well: "I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine" (Ps. 50:11). I see that as meaning that everything that exists is safely preserved by an eternal Parent - God.
The second is the concept of balance. I keep thinking about what we really saw on that evening in the bush. Going about their appointed tasks, the various species were expressing beauty, intelligence, grace, and, above all, balance. That last point seems the key. This round of extinction suggests that humankind is out of balance with the rest of creation. I find that hard to accept. I believe that as men and women of God's creating, we must express the wisdom that founded the universe. It follows, therefore, that balance without us is impossible.
In a segment in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" on right and wrong action, Mary Baker Eddy pointed out that it is "foolish deceit" and harmful to oneself to "talk the right and live the wrong." But the omnipotence of God, she wrote, helps one "to continue in well doing." And she concluded: "Right adjusts the balance sooner or later" (pages 448-449).
At present, it appears that humanity's numbers and actions threaten a fragile ecology. It may be that we have a lot more to learn about living in consonance with divine wisdom and intelligence. But I'm certain that a more spiritual perspective of our origin and purpose can have a corrective effect, revealing evidence of balance and harmony as the natural order.
Ye shall go out with joy,
and be led forth with peace:
the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of
the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall
come up the myrtle tree: and
it shall be to the Lord for a name,
for an everlasting sign
that shall not be cut off.
Isaiah 55:12, 13