God’s hospitality extends to creepy-crawlies too.

by Christa Von Zychlin

O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. … creeping things innumerable… living things both small and great. …and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. (Psalm 104:24-26).

A COCKROACH CRAWLS over the sidewalk. Sluggish but very much alive, she’s the first sign of spring in Albuquerque. My walking partner is not amused. “Maybe you should look up instead of down,” he suggests. For a moment, I do. I note the bird warbling from a tall yucca, and I admire redbud trees popping their blossoms. I think about those coyotes I glimpse occasionally and the bobcat I saw once prowling through our desert neighborhood, nestled in the foothills of the Sandia mountains.

But it is one of God’s creepy-crawlies that intrigues me today. How did she survive the freezing winter and land on the sidewalk? Did a bird drop her from a vast height? Did she emerge unscathed from Monday’s garbage-day pick-up? How little we know about the everyday life of God’s “creeping things innumerable.”

I’m still relatively new to the desert landscape and its inhabitants. God’s creation is full of oddities, dangers and beauties. And I suppose I should feel irritated by flower-eating mule deer or intimidated by the occasional snake sunning itself on the sidewalk. But I remind myself that scientists, environmentalists and the first creation story in Genesis all agree: The animals were here first. You could say humans are the unruly guests in the garden.

I love the realization that we are guests on this earth. Recently as I was grousing about something yet again (Work? Bills? The much-too-complicated TV remote?), my son asked me, out of the blue, “How do you react if you’re a guest in someone’s house and you’re served a dish you don’t particularly like?”

I said I’d probably eat a little of it and push it around on my plate, and who knows, maybe I’d even discover I did like it. This happened to me once with Brussels sprouts. I was dead set against them, my host served them, and voila!—they were fragrant, fresh and wrapped in bacon! I became a lifelong convert. But I digress.

“In any case, you wouldn’t complain loudly, right?” my son said, pushing the point. I had to admit, no. I wouldn’t.

Then he told me about Epictetus, a philosopher of the first century, who suggested his students should think of life as a great banquet to which we’ve been invited, for a few hours. Instead of spending the time complaining about what’s on the menu, we would do better to graciously accept what’s offered and remember we are short-stay guests upon this earth.

Maybe I needn’t complain quite so much about the frustrating things in this guesthouse of life.

The Rev. Dr. Christa Von Zychlin has served Lutheran churches around the world through ELCA global partnerships. She co-pastors St. Luke Lutheran Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she also loves exploring the spirituality of mountains and deserts.

This is excerpted from the September/October 2022 issue. To read more articles like it, subscribe to Gather.