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The Water Flushed The Praying Mantises Up and Out

This post is from my book Cairn-Space and for my friend Susan who carried a pod to her garden and watched them hatch one fine day.

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The watering flushed praying mantises up and out of the cover of stalk and stem; onto walls, and branches, and posts. Had I not been paying attention, I would have missed them. I would have never seen what they had to teach.

They climbed up trying to avoid the water I was adding to the garden. As they climbed, they would often spot a bug and settle in for the kill. Patiently they would wait for the “perfect” moment before striking. In their rising, nourishment presented itself. They would stop and dine. They watched and waited—like the Wise Virgins of Jesus’ parable. They were watchful and alert.

I had the good pleasure to encounter their watching and waiting. Slowly focusing on the meal, almost hypnotizing it before the strike, they would become careful, and lose their place in time to a slowed attention.  It was the “Power of the Slowing” that Gerald May wrote about in “The Wisdom of the Wilderness”  HarperCollins Books, NY, 2006). Their slowing to capture food made me pause, pay attention, and enter into the slowing myself.  It taught me about what it takes to discriminate and discern the quality and nature of things in my life. Although all things can move us toward union with God, some things pose potential dangers and threats of entanglement that are just not worth risking. It requires watchfulness and alertness to become  nourished—to grow.

Slowing helps us to focus and become aware. Nature has a tendency to help us enter the slowing, if we watch her examples in other sentient beings. Could my praying become the same? Could I still myself enough to become observant and watch what would arise from my heart as I watered it? Could I become still enough to see the many options for nourishment all around me: love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, gentleness,
self-control, community, forgiveness?

For many years prior to this experience of the mantises rising, we had hatched mantis pods as a family. We would buy an egg casing from the local garden store and leave it out in the backyard in a covered aquarium. As the weeks wore on, we would almost forget it was there, until one day someone would notice hundreds of mantises on the walls of glass. It was hard to believe that so many mantises could be in one casing. They were a shifting mass of life and limb covering the aquarium walls. We would take off the lid and watch them scurry throughout the yard.

There was another time we had watched the mantises. Glinda and I had just begun dating. We hiked the woods and collected scraps of nature to weave into a wreath. We started with grapevine. We wrapped it into a circle. We tucked dried garlic-mustard fronds into the hoop. We tucked in some mullein leaves and sassafras roots. We also wove in a mantis pod. We had no idea what it was.

One night, when we returned to her room, the walls were covered in moving spots. At first we thought our eyes were deceiving us. We thought we saw shifting movement. As we stepped closer, we were assured that we did. Hundreds of young mantises covered the wall. This was an accidental hatching. The hatchings in the aquarium were not.

I am glad that we took the time to hatch them. They gave me pause in their hatching, and a renewed sense of stillness in watching them rise while watering the gardens. For years, we had more praying mantises in our gardens than anyone around. For years, I had a new way of seeing prayer. Their presence has been a cycle of routine. I have seen their daily morphs and the slow changes that happen to them over time. I have seen how their colors change as summer lengthens and draws to a close. From green to brown they fade. Their numbers decrease throughout the browning, until they leave the yard altogether. Gone.

from Chapter One of Cairn-Space

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