Is there anyone here who does not know the name of this “wascally wabbit”? Bugs Bunny! Bugs is just one more in a long line of cartoon characters who bear little resemblance to the real life animals on which they are based. Bugs has a long torso, and arms and legs, and is most often seen standing upright, like a person. He wields his carrot in the way an old time stand-up comedian would handle a cigar, and he talks and acts like a wise guy from Brooklyn. Humans have long practiced what is called Anthropomorphism, or personification. This is attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. Examples include ascribing human emotions or motives to forces of nature. There are echoes of this whenever hear the weather reports describing Hurricane Rhonda, or Tropical Storm Louise. I wonder why we don’t give names to earthquakes and forest fires. Anthropomorphism has ancient roots as a literary device in storytelling, and in art. Most cultures have traditional fables with animals which act, and think, and feel emotions, and talk like humans. Aesop’s fables are well-known, but there are even more ancient examples. Here is an illustration from a Syrian edition of the Panchatantra, printed in 1354. The original story is dated at least 3 centuries before the time of Jesus. Rabbit fools Elephant by showing him the reflection of the moon.
Not long ago I had an experience with a real live, non-talking rabbit. On a quiet spring evening I lay in our backyard hammock, a medieval murder mystery in my lap. The sun’s warmth had lulled me into closing my eyes, just for a moment. I awoke to bear witness to a moment of commonplace wonder.
Just a few feet from where I lay suspended, a rabbit munched peacefully on grass and clover. This rabbit seemed less furtive than some we see skitting about our yard. Its ears were relaxed. Its head only occasionally swivel-scanned the area. I admired the mottled blend of browns- real earth tones- of its fur. Even at rest, I could see the lean outline of muscle and sinew beneath, ready to twitch into untamed speed.
There was nothing cute about this creature. In the light glinting off the dark, round disk of its eye, I glimpsed “otherness”- an intelligence nothing like my own. This was a moment in which I realized that we do not always see what is really there. We see what we have been conditioned to see, and we see what we want to see.
We filter out the wildness, and focus on the cuteness, the fuzzy resemblance to cartoon characters and stuffed animals. Even the cutest, most domesticated rabbit is still a wild animal.
My friends who have had their lamp cords, tv cable, and stereo wires chewed up every time Fluffy gets loose can attest to the untameable, unteachable nature of their pet rabbit. Fluffy does not like carrots, he does not talk like Bugs, and he definitely does not understand the word “No!”.
Today we are celebrating Flora and Fauna Sunday. Flora is represented by the plants at the front of the sanctuary. They are reminders of all that grows out of the soil. It is good to have those signs of life in our midst. It is so easy for us to lead air-conditioned, sanitized lives in which we see more nature on television than we do in person, even though it is all literally outside of our doors.
Fauna is the word we use for all the animals, birds, and water creatures, and insects, that according to the Book of Genesis, emerged from the clay of the earth, and were given life by the creator. In our call to worship we expressed our kinship with the animal world. We are, in fact, a family of fauna—both biologically and spiritually. The creatures of Earth are our kin. We have all emerged from Earth and return to Earth. All living things are animated by the very breath/spirit of God.
Wednesday, at sundown, marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. Rosh Hashanah, in Hebrew roughly means “beginning, or head of the year”. This is the beginning of the Jewish new year. This religious and cultural tradition has been around for thousands of years, much longer than any of our Christian celebrations. There have been many centuries for meaning and beauty to be added, in the same way a pearl is created layer by layer, over time.
As the beginning of a new year, it is a time to reflect on the past, and look forward to the future, and perhaps make resolutions, or to seek the forgiveness of those who have been wronged. The day is also believed to be the anniversary of the creation of the world, and of Adam and Eve, named in the Genesis stories as the first man and woman. The story sets them in the midst of, not separate from the rest of creation. The setting for everyday of our lives is within God’s creation. As one commentator has said, it is good to remember the Divine in the soul and honor the sacred water, soil, air and fire, because, “there is no place that God is not.”
Everything is blessed, and God is in all things. Although we in North America are moving into the fall season, in the Middle East it is time for the planting of seeds and the first rain. For people of a farming culture, the soil was central to human life. The Hebrew word for soil is Adamah, which starts with the first Hebrew letter, and is made of the Hebrew words for human being, and blood, or lifeline. The word for soil reminds us of Adam, who in the Genesis story was formed of the soil, after God formed all the animals and birds of the air, and the fishes and all creatures that dwell in the water.
We are not rural, agricultural people anymore, and even that way of life as been infected deeply by the taming, the commodification of the created order. We don’t do well, as a species, with the job of steward of creation that the agricultural people of Israel accepted as their role. We are more like consumers than caretakers.
We seem to value the natural world for what it can give us. This is different from seeing ourselves as part of a wondrous ongoing creation, filled with strangeness and beauty. This is different from remembering that life, all life is a precious gift- a divine and mysterious gift. As mysterious as the creator sculpting creatures from the soil and breathing life into them. Amen