The Synchronicity of Love

This last week the citizens of Claremont were treated to another hateful polemic against our proposed supportive housing development for the unhoused.  It was a fearful screed of half-truths and myths about those of us living in back alleys and in cars, in parks and on our streets. 

Of course, provide the housing – anywhere else but here.  And, mind you, don’t use any of our tax dollars.  Send these people to Pomona, Los Angeles, San Bernardino – anywhere else but here!

Despite some of our fearful neighbors, in the face of exclusion, today the Church celebrates a different ethic:  The radical Synchronicity of Love –

Trinity Sunday.  Through divine relationship Love is busting out all over.  A movie title attempted to capture such a simultaneous outburst of events: “Everything Everywhere All at Once.”

Such is the outpouring of Divine Relationship we celebrate today.  How?  It’s a complete mystery.  Far above my humble pay grade to comprehend.

In the gift of Creation scripture attests to its unfolding.  The simple fact that there is something instead of nothing is the first work of the Grace of God.

I’ve often said that on this Sunday scores of hapless preachers will attempt to make sense of this theological doctrine we call the Trinity.  Heresy heaped upon heresy as pulpiteers stumble over metaphor and simile.  I say, instead, let’s enjoy and give thanks for the great interrelationship:  Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – that Divine Glory revealed through the wonder of our natural world and our interactions.  See Psalm 8!

Or, as the Jewish mystic, Martin Buber, proclaimed:  God is Relationship.  Everything Everywhere All at Once – a Synchronicity of Delight.

One cannot take a float trip down a river through the interior of Alaska and not be overwhelmed by it all.  Whether it is the brilliant display of bluish-green northern lights dancing through a velvet-black sky studded with stars beyond imagining, or a startled golden eagle that launches itself into flight as you come around a bend – soaring just feet above your head with its magnificent wingspan of over six feet.  Enough to take one’s breath away!

It is all an overwhelming synchronicity of delight.  No less than the disarming smile of a young child or an old friend. 

It’s also butterflies.

As a young boy I went through a butterfly phase, spending hours going from yard to yard with my enormous butterfly net, catching and mounting swallowtails, monarchs, dusty millers, skippers, viceroys…  I knew most by sight as they flitted from flower to flower.

It was with delight that the other day that I came across the story of a woman who has played a large role in bringing back from extinction the Palos Verdes blue (aka PV blue), a small butterfly, the size of a thumbnail, once thought to be extinct It is a beautiful cerulean blue with a white underside.[1]

It all began for Jana Johnson at a time when she had to reinvent her own life.  Her marriage was failing.  She had two small boys to raise and her finances were about depleted.  Her small stipend as an assistant to a UCLA professor wasn’t making it.  Her PhD dissertation on lizards that survived the fire season was going nowhere.  Apparently, not enough lizards.

She recounted to her therapist a recurring visual of hanging to the side of a cliff and attempting to catch her sons as they would fall off and fling them back to the top.

Her therapist told her to change her visualization.  “Pretend,” he said, “you’re standing at the edge of the cliff, not hanging off the side.  There’s a net below, he promised.  She just couldn’t see it yet.”

And there it was — that net:  the professor she had worked for was a renowned lepidopterist, a person who studies butterflies.  Professor Rudi Mattoni had discovered the PV blues some 11 years after they had been declared extinct — as he and another entomologist, Rick Rogers, were doing a routine survey of insects on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Walking through a field of a naval petroleum depositary yard, close together, Rick had come to a sudden halt.  “Rudy, look at that!  There’s a blue.”

“Rudy had to catch it before he was certain.  But then he looked at me and gave a shout. ‘We just got the jackpot!  We won the lottery!  Do you know what this is, kiddo.  (He always said kiddo.).  ‘This is the Palos Verdes blue butterfly and he is alive right here!’”[2]

Habitat destruction had virtually wiped out the species except in this one, miniscule location, where the soil was regularly disturbed by bulldozers to keep down weeds.  The two plants on which the butterfly caterpillars feed require some disturbance to keep down other vegetation which would choke them out.  Before human habitation, regular fires performed this disturbance.  Being part of a naval base, this small plot had remained isolated, and the Navy had been using bulldozers to keep down the weeds.  That’s the only reason the PV blue had hung on in this small, isolated location.

Dr. Mattoni received permission to collect a few of the remaining blues for a captive breeding program.  Enter Jana Johnson, whose job became caretaker and babysitter for the critters.  She developed and improved the protocol for raising the insects, soon producing several thousand per season.  This work also became the subject of her re-envisioned PhD dissertation, completed 2008.

All the while she was raising butterflies, she had two boys to raise as well.  Both are now fine young men, one just finished college, the other still at his studies.

As with butterflies, Jana found having a team to raise her sons was also essential.  One day a friend suggested she take the boys to Moorpark Zoo, a teaching facility of Moorpark College.  After receiving her PhD, she was eventually hired by the college for a summer position and eventually given a space at the zoo between the lion and tigers.  There the Butterfly Project was housed.

Did her sons suffer?  Both say that hanging out with Mom through her all her trapsing about was totally “cool.”  “Our family vacations were usually work trips for her.  She’d work in the field, and we’d follow looking for bugs and birds and lizards and stuff,” her oldest said.  “And being with a mom so passionate about something gave us an incredible work ethic.  We just liked being around her.”[3]

These boys and their mom had the delight to learn more about the splendor of the gift of creation than most any of us.  That is the wonder we celebrate this Trinity Sunday.  Nature, a mom, a mentor, two growing boys and butterflies…what could be a finer version of the story of creation for our time?

Now at fifty-four, and a tenured professor at Moorpark College, Dr. Jana Johnson did find that meaningful work that she could be passionate about, friends to help with her butterflies and her boys – there was that promised safety net. 

I sometimes take a few moments to drift down memory lane, seeing in my mind’s eye Artie and Jack and myself with our butterfly nets desperately lunging after a dazzling yellow swallowtail hovering lazily just above our heads.

The earth is in trouble.  So says the headline in the morning paper.  We have blown past seven of eight safety limits.  The headline blared, “The Earth is really quite sick now.”[4]  Here in Southern California, it seems between May Gray and June Gloom, we’ve hardly seen the sun in days – or at least so it seems.  Global Weirding for sure.  “Majority of Californians fear worsening weather extremes,” cries another headline.[5]

It could all be cause for despair and giving up.  Then I opened my new issue of The Sun.  The interview was with a Rebecca Priestley, environmental scientist from New Zealand.  After completing her PhD in the history of science, she went on to earn a masters degree in creative writing, using those skills to effectively communicate the realities of climate change.

She describes a seminal moment when the reality of global warming hit her.  Doing research in Antarctica, at the New Zealand research station at Scott Base, she and several colleagues were watching the news from New Zealand in the bar before dinner.  The newscaster was showing pictures of folks going to the beach and eating ice cream that summer in a place known for being notoriously cold and damp.  Instead, it was a balmy 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

“I looked around the bar at Scott Base, where just about every science project was about climate change or in some way connected to climate change, and there were no smiles on faces.  People were shaking their heads.”[6]

She and her family have begun making the little changes they feel necessary.  Her husband rides a bike to work.  Planting trees.  When a car is needed, they use a ride-sharing service.  They’ve cut down air travel.  Yes, changed light bulbs. 

“It doesn’t help to dwell on worst-case scenarios.  If the problem seems too enormous, some people feel paralyzed or even give up and say, ‘Lets just get drunk and enjoy ourselves, because we don’t have long.’”[7]

Her long-term solution?  “We need national governments and regional governments to take the lead.  We need to vote for people who are going to promote change.  The market will not respond fast enough to make the necessary changes.”[8]

Such thinking honors my understanding of Trinity Sunday – all of us working, individually and together, for systematic change.

Governor DeSantis, this is not “woke” politics.  It’s today’s reality.  And frankly, between you and Disneyland, my money’s on the mouse.  Through a synchronicity of love and political action, we, as cooperators with God, can do this.

Butterflies or climate activism, it all adds up.  As St. Augustine somewhere said, “Faithfulness in the little things is a BIG Thing.”[9]  Dr. Priestley is right — for us older folks — it’s not OK to dump this problem in the laps of the younger generation and walk away.  We can all do something to raise awareness and political will.

The ocean may be rising, but, as my friend Jim Strathdee writes, “the Ocean of Love will overcome.” 

That’s my story, that’s Rebecca’s story, and we’re sticking to it.  A blessed Trinity Sunday to you – a Synchronicity of Love — all joined together with all who revere this marvelous gift of Creation.  Our friend Lynn constantly reminds us, “We’re all in this together.”  A most Blessed Trinity Sunday! Amen.

[1] Jeanette Marantos, “Endangered butterfly helped her to take wing,” Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2023

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Seth Borenstein, “The Earth is really quite sick now,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2023.

[5] Hayley Smith, “Majority of Californians fear worsening weather extremes,” Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2023.

[6] Dash Lewis, “Don’t Panic: Rebecca Priestly on Finding Hope Amid the Climate Crisis, The Sun, June, 2023. 7.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Op cit., 8.

[9] Luke 16:10.

St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach
2855 Sterling Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92404

June 5, 2023 – Trinity Sunday

“The Synchronicity of Love”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

Genesis 1:1-2:4a; Psalm 8;

2 Corinthians 13:11-13; Matthew 28:16-20

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