My wife, Amparo, and I are visiting her native country of Colombia, staying the month in the peaceful, mountainous, semi-tropical town of Barichara.
Already, we’ve gotten into the rhythm of the place and food is a big part: breakfast of fresh pineapple, tangerines off the tree in our house, various kinds of cheese breads, or arepas, an egg or two and pitch-black and strong Colombian coffee; lunch – the main meal – of meat, poultry or fish, vegetables and rice; and dinner, mostly of “calentado,” or leftovers.
I spend much of my day reading and writing, with a long hike in late afternoon when the heat of the day gives way to the breezes that come like clockwork. Amparo likes to casually walk about town, making and renewing acquaintances with the shopkeepers (She’s from another part of Colombia, but we’ve been here several times before.) We both take early-afternoon naps in hammocks strategically placed to catch the breeze.
We realize how privileged we are to be here, to have the leisure of retirement, and are grateful to God and our host, Amparo’s niece, Patricia Perez.
Yesterday, while reading in the hammock, I noticed a slight movement at the foot of a wooden beam a few feet away. It was a gecko, not more than an inch and a half long, light green with dark spots on its body. I had seen it the day before accompanied by another with a reddish head.
I was lucky to notice them because these creatures seldom move, waiting much of the day for a dinner where ants, flies and mosquitos frequently linger.
If you’re the least bit cynical, you might say, “Get a Life!” and I would agree that most people have neither the time nor inclination to notice such “insignificant” things. But surrounded by natural wonders – plants and animals that are too numerous, and too exotic, for a humble Iowan to name – you see that the natural world has its lessons for us humans who presume earth’s domination.
For readers who know about geckos only from the cartoon gecko in TV insurance ads, here’s a little help from Wikipedia. There are 1,500 species of geckos worldwide. Many of them – including the ones that live in our house – make chirping or clicking sounds. Many species are also well known for their “specialized toe pads that enable them to climb smooth and vertical surfaces, and even cross indoor ceilings with ease.”
If you’re thinking, “I sure wouldn’t want them running around in my house,” I think you would reconsider if you lived in a tropical or semi-tropical area where the design of houses generally is open to patios and where screen-less windows are open much of the time. Such designs provide cooling breezes but also allow entrance to all manner of insects, including the flying types – moths, flies and mosquitos.
Geckos are happy to eat them all. They hang out around light fixtures at night and anyplace, such as fountains or pools, which attract insects.
So, what does all this have to do with the search for God? Not much, really, unless you recognize that all of life has something to do with God.
The Most Common, Ordinary Things
Many spiritual writers note that God can be found in nature. But what does that mean? It means God is present in everything, even the most common, ordinary things, and is everywhere – an idea that is a staple in Judaism and Christianity.
“Is there any place I can go to avoid your Spirit, to be out of your sight?” asks Psalm 139 in The Message translation. “If I climb to the sky, you’re there! If I go underground, you’re there! If I fly on morning’s wings to the far western horizon, you’d find me in a minute – you’re already there waiting!”
Besides God’s presence, nature has its lessons.
For someone like me, who dislikes slow drivers, hates to wait in line, is uncomfortable with long homilies and speeches, is irritated by waiting for my spouse, the example of the gecko is invaluable. Geckos are the soul of patience. They sit still for lengthy periods, waiting to strike at an insect. If you want to see them in action, you also have to have patience.
“Lord, give me the patience of a gecko!”