Lessons from the Everglades, Part II

April 30, 2013 

I grew up in the West. Things are big there. The Grand Canyon. The majestic Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley. The Grand Tetons. The high Sierras. The depths of Crater Lake. The high peaks and bubbling cauldrons of Yellowstone National Park.

These things are BIG.

They were mostly created by big events. So I guess it’s natural for me to assume that big changes have to be created by big events.

And then I went to the Everglades.

On the drive through Everglades National Park, like in many national parks, there are elevation signs. I know elevation signs. The one just before getting to my friend’s cabin in California reads 7,000 feet. The one at the Continental Divide at Gray’s Peak in Colorado reads 14,278 ft. But in Everglades? “Rock Reef Pass, 3 ft.” And then, a few miles later, “Dwarf Cypress Forest, 4 Ft.”

I burst out laughing.

We went back to take pictures of the signs. OK, I get that we’re at low elevation, but we need signs for that? Really? A one-foot elevation change?

And then we headed off on the walks to the side of the road. There are a number of half-mile to 2-mile trails that lead you to different places in the park. And what I found in these places brought me up short. One of the little trails leads, indeed, to a cypress forest. Another trail led to a grove of mahogany trees.

There were trails to mangroves, a pine rockland and a sawgrass marsh. Unbelievable! Nine completely different habitats in a four-foot elevation change. It didn’t seem possible to me that a one-foot elevation change could amount to anything, much less the possibility for totally different habitats.

So where are the “words of faith” here? Are you ready? Here they come: We get used to believing that big changes in our lives of faith can only come as a result of dramatic events. But the Everglades showed me that a tiny change, one that might not even be noticeable to anyone else, can have dramatic results.

You don’t have to start by spending an hour a day in prayer, if prayer isn’t a common part of your life. Determine to spend one minute a day praying for someone else and see what happens. You don’t have to start by building a homeless shelter. Determine simply to look into the eyes of the next homeless person you see, acknowledge their humanity, and give them a smile. See where that leads you.

You don’t even have to throw yourself headlong into faith; you can start by acknowledging and being willing to wrestle with the places where your inklings of faith and your doubts meet.

Most of life isn’t about dramatic events. It’s not about Yosemite or Yellowstone. Most of life is the slow-moving, meandering broad river where we typically fail to even notice the incremental variations, even those that have the potential to offer transformation.

The Rev. Dr. Joanne Sizoo is pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill. Contact her at jsizoo@gracewired.org.

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