(Photo of cicada by Julie Seidler)
"By the second half of life, you have learned ever so slowly, and with much resistance, that most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image to boot, and incites a lot of push-back from those you have attacked. This seems to be one of the last lessons to be learned. Think of the cold Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, or the monk who tries to eliminate all humor in The Name of the Rose, or the frowning Koran burners of Florida. Holier-than-thou people usually end up holier than nobody. Daily life now requires prayer and discernment more than knee-jerk responses toward either the conservative or liberal end of the spectrum. You have a spectrum of responses now, and they are not all predictable, as is too often the case with most knee-jerk responses."
--Richard Rohr, from "Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life"
Probably the most talked about thing on a day-to-day basis in Missouri this late spring, on the eve of summer, is the re-emergence of the 13 year cicadas.
There are two kinds of cicadas in these parts, the 13 year ones and the 17 year ones. One year, when I was a kid, both batches hatched the same summer. They are not generally considered a "joy of summer." They crawl out of the ground, and come out of their larval shells in their adult form. When they first emerge, they are albino white, but with those orange eyes. In a few hours they turn black.
When they hatch, there's no doubt they're here. As soon as their wings and exoskeletons dry, the males start making their distinctive sound--a sound that has been measured as high as 120 decibels. They tend to hang out in trees. The racket they make as one passes under a tree full of them is deafening. I've been listening to people complain for days about the noise, the fact they land on you (they don't bite, but they're big, and they fly right into you with a "thump" at times), and the mess and smell the dead ones and the leftover larval shells make.
But honestly, if I'm not right under a tree full of them, after a while outside, I don't even hear them. I was on the phone with someone over the weekend and they were complaining they could not hear me because of them. But over time, their noise just goes off into my background noise and I don't hear them. I have been watching my Facebook friends complain about how they hate them landing on them, I've seen some of my friends freak out over them, keep looking at the ground at the dead ones, and going, "Oh, gross!" and carrying on about them, and I'm kinda like, "Yeah, whatever." (One of my Facebook friends posted how someone in town wrecked their car because they were so freaked out by them.) I've actually entertained myself by feeding them to the fish at 1000 Hills Lake and trying to attack them with the lawnmower while mowing.
But I've thought about two things in a spiritual bend with regard to these strange black bugs.
One has to do with a natural consequence of what happens in a cicada outbreak--the biological process of "predator satiation." Several creatures find cicadas a yummy treat--but there becomes a point the predators have eaten their fill of them, and can't possibly eat all the ones out there, and additionally begin to crave other forms of food. I think about the little bluegills I was tossing cicadas into the water for fun. They started hitting them with the vigor of sharks, eating them in a single bite. But over time, they got less interested in them. They had filled their bellies, and they were tired of them.
I think about how one of the things I have learned in middle age in terms of dealing with things that upset me or have hurt me, is there is just a point where I have had a belly full, and I'm done with it. Now in one sense, that's good. I am no longer wasting any negative energy on it. I think of times I've "utzed" just for the sake of annoying someone else, so I could feel justified or vindicated. I think when I get my belly full of it, I no longer exert energy on something that doesn't "feed" me any more, that doesn't build up the Body of Christ.
But in another sense, it's not so good. It means my satiety can make me unaware or uncaring of someone else's spiritual hunger. Just because I've had a belly full of some situation, doesn't mean I should not show love to those who still have a hunger about it--even if that hunger is misguided or they do not fully realize the situation. It's sort of like "cooking for hungry people when my stomach is full." I should be mindful to cook what's good for them, or be aware when they have to cook for themselves, rather than just going, "Oh, you're hungry about this? Well, I'm full. Here's a box of crackers. I don't feel like cooking anything for you."
The other thing I think about is how I know full well that the cicada eruption is temporary. I have lived through several cicada cycles now. I know that before long, they'll be gone. Yeah, they can be annoying, yeah, they are messy, but they'll be gone in a couple of months, and it will be several years before the next crop of them shows up. Yeah, they annoy me some, but it is a very minor annoyance and mostly, I no longer notice them. I sort of find people my age or older being upset about them a little odd, actually. I can understand why teenagers or 20somethings might be all grossed out by them, but those of us of a certain age know they'll be gone, so why make a big deal about them? It seems to be a silly excuse not to sit outside or go places.
It goes back to what Rohr says about "a spectrum of responses."
Things that are new to me (and yes, there still are a few "new experiences" in my life now and then, jaded as I might appear about it all,) I don't have much history from which to draw, for "how to react to it." Yet, the things that give me the most trouble sometimes, are not the new things, but new permutations of the old. It's my tendency (and that's probably not unique to me) to react to them using the old responses and the old tools. What I'm discovering is I don't have to react to them in the same old way. Really, the "same old way" sometimes, wasn't very good at all. It expended a lot of negative energy--energy that caused me to tear down myself and in effect, tear down the Body of Christ. (This was true even when I was running from the church for 20 years.) It's energy that created messes instead of dealt with them when they occurred.
I mean, if I see a big wad of cicadas in the grass, it makes no sense to walk right through the middle of them and, when I get them all over the bottoms of my shoes, go, "Oh, ICK! These damn cicadas! I hate them!" No, I'd just walk around them, and if I got one or two on the bottom of my shoes, big deal, so what?
I used to call this "meeting my problems head on." Now I realize what I was actually doing was causing more problems than I needed to.
What he says about the "push-back" thing is also accurate. I think back at the number of times that I was actually coming along okay, at my pace, with my own healing and reconciliation about something, but if someone pushed my buttons in a certain way, I felt "bound and determined" (read: obsessed and compulsively driven) to "prove" to someone else "just how okay I WAS" ("SEE! SEE! See how fine I am now? Why aren't YOU noticing this?")--but in reality, all I was doing was sidetracking my process. My obsession with changing others, (or their attitudes about me) even in the name of justifying my own healing, simply gave THEM vindication and justification to continue THEIR bad behavior.
I think back to a recent situation where I was observing a lot of painful emotions play out. It was a situation that not long ago, would have punched my "push-back" buttons. I simply sat and said nothing, but truly listened. I recognized several important things:
1. I was sated. I am full of all the emotions it put me through, and I like where I am now too much to stuff myself with it till I pop.
2. My satiety did not blind me to the spiritual hunger of other people in the room. I realized they were the ones who needed to be heard, not me. They needed to say what they hungered for. They were not ready to hear how others in the room felt about it. There was no point in pushing back. Their hunger was so great, what I had would not be accepted as "food," and there was no point shoving it down their gullet.
3. I left that night, wondering how my silence would be interpreted. I realized that for anyone who wanted to say I was in a different place than I was, that was their right to do so, but I also didn't feel a need to prove myself to anyone about it. For the most part, they could think what they want. I gave the folks who needed feedback, feedback. That was good enough. I know where I am with it. I know I can choose to respond in a loving fashion to anyone who needs to engage me about it. I felt good that in a sense, I was shown a test to my serenity, and actually felt a great deal of serenity about it as I drove home.
4. Things run their course in due season. I don't know when the season of this particular thing will end, or even how it will end, but I know someday it will not matter. I also know the people who stay in the game will be changed in some way, and I can't predict or force that change. I know some people will not be able to bear it--they will not be able to adjust to the noise--and they will not stay in the game. I can't pin my hopes on a desired outcome. I can, however pin my hopes on my own transformation in it. I can pin my hopes on God, that, to quote Julian of Norwich, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."
Meanwhile, I plan not to run through a yard full of cicadas and complain about the mess on my shoes.