What do Mosquitoes, A Monk, Caribou and the Church Have in Common?

It’s been a long and busy spring and summer and I apologize for being so long in posting anything new.  I wrote this little piece a few weeks back for my church and I’m just now finding the time to post it!  You can thank a rainy day giving me the time off from the garden.

My poor attempt to capture the swarms of mosquitoes around Carson's head on a hike we did one night up on the Nakina

My poor attempt to capture the swarms of mosquitoes around Carson’s head on a hike we did one night up on the Nakina

Mosquitoes and the North go hand in hand in the summertime. Rarely will you find one without the other and it is especially bad when you are close to water. A lot of energy and expense and thought go into repelling mosquitoes in camp. There are mosquito sprays and mosquito nets and mosquito jackets and mosquito hats and mosquito patches and mosquito clip-ons and mosquito coils and mosquito candles and of course the ultimate toy, a tennis racket that zaps mosquitoes in mid-flight with a snap and a spark.  Still it is impossible to completely eradicate the vicious little biting creatures.

zapperEvery morning, usually an hour or so before I had to get up, and usually just after the first birds of the morning start trilling (which in June in Northern BC starts earlier than five), a faint humming whine stole into my semi-consciousness and I spend a good amount of pre-awakeness trying to slap a mosquito that had found it’s way in to my net and was trying to settle on my nose or my ear. (This is where the zapper came in handy, as I learned to sleep with the thing in reach and I would groggily find it and wave it around blindly until zap! fizz!  Gone mosquito!)

I read a story recently about a man called Brother Joseph Zoettl, most famous for his lifetime of work creating a “Jerusalem in Miniature” at the St. Bernard Abby in Cullum, Alabama.  You can see some pictures here.

Brother Joseph, born in Bavaria, nearly died from a flu that swept Europe in 1891. He was left with complications from that flu that hunched his back. However, that didn’t stop him from signing up with the monks of St. Bernard Abby of America a year later, who were looking for candidates in Europe at the time. When he joined the abbey, he was told when he arrived at the abbot that he could never fulfill his dream to be a priest because of his hunchback and instead he put to work in the quarry on the abbey grounds, then became a housekeeper that travelled to different parishes across the Southeast. Eventually he ended up back at the abbey to become keeper of the abbey’s powerhouse. Here, for thirty years he worked seventeen hour burdensome days with hardly time to attend mass––stoking fires, shoveling coal, monitoring gages and troubleshooting all problems that came up. He hated the work and related his troubles to his fellow monks and in his journals. Then he came across the writings of Therese of Lisieux, known for the “little way”. He was inspired by her take on living that he could now go about his menial tasks with love and joy.

He started building small grottos, using his scarce free time and whatever materials he could find. Using concrete, glass, trinkets, shells, stones, jewelry, wire, marbles, ash trays and even toilet bowl floats, he constructed a city in miniature that eventually took up over 4 acres of abbey grounds. The St. Bernard Abbey is now famous across the world for the Ave Maria Grotto that little hunchback Joseph built in his little way.

So when I came across this old African Proverb, I thought of Brother Joseph and smiled, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito”

When I was in Whitehorse earlier I picked up a book for my son called A Caribou’s Journey by Debbie S. Miller. It is a beautiful book designed to bring awareness to the lifecycle of a barren-ground caribou in the Porcupine Herd that migrates thousands of mile each year between Alaska and the Yukon.  I highly recommend it for it’s pictures alone; though the story is very informative for all ages, as well.cariboujourneybook

There is a page that details the two summer months spent high in the Arctic where the sun never sets and during these endless days the caribou spread out to roam the open tundra foraging for food. It tells of how they share the land with a great many birds that migrated north to nest and hatch chicks, and how the air is filled with clouds of buzzing mosquitoes.

The birds eat the mosquitoes, who eat the caribou; apparently “a caribou can loose up to one quart of blood in a week’s time when the mosquitoes are at their worst.” However, it is the maddening swarms of mosquitoes coupled with the relentless hot sun that drives the caribou together by the thousands. By shoving in tight together, each caribou has less exposure to the biting bugs. And as they group together the caribou feel the urge to leave the coastal plain and return to their winter grounds.

That whole part of the caribou’s story fascinates me; how something so small and minute as a mosquito, joining forces with others just as tiny and minute, can eventually drive a great herd of animals (who are hundreds of thousands times bigger than themselves) together and move them a very long distance. Now I’m of the mindset, that I think the Creator designed the mosquitoes for such a purpose. (Which answers the age-old question: Why did God create the mosquito? To feed birds and make the caribou migrate, of course.)

This all makes me think of the church and it makes me think of God’s kingdom and our task to move people towards God’s kingdom. Maybe you don’t think you can make much difference, but I suggest you look at the picture of the clouds of mosquitoes swarming together driving a massive herd of caribou, and I think maybe you’ll get the idea of the church––not that we need to inflict pain to move people, or being annoying pests, but rather that small, insignificant people joined together can certainly make a difference, if it’s by the Master’s design.

So joining my two stories and all my thoughts together:

Small, seemingly insignificant things done in love can make a big difference especially if you join forces with small, insignificant others who are guided by the Master’s hand.

*Brother Joseph Zoettl references taken from “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans pages 175-179 and the Ava Maria Grotto Website.

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This entry was posted in Cooking for a Fishing Lodge in Northern BC, From the Here and Now, Tips and Tricks from the Bush and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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