Cosmic Eco Consciousness

Cosmic Eco Consciousness
Glass leaf-shaped bowl filled with water and coloured stones of different shapes refracting light illustrating a post about cosmic eco consciousness

Consciousness, the cosmic kind. A vision of the unity of all creation. That might be one spark of spiritual ecology. And, if it leads to action, it can become a bright flame.

That’s what I argued when I took my turn in our faculty sermon series on the book of Proverbs.

I based it—of course—on one sage’s teaching about the four wise animals. But, for context, I also used the sage’s odd self-introduction.

Consciousness or Lack of it? (Proverbs 30)

The words of Agur (אגור) son of Jakeh (יקה), [man of] Massa (המשא); The speech of the man to Ithiel, to Ithiel (אתיאל) and Ucal (אכל):

I am brutish, less than a man (כי בער אנכי מאיש), lacking common sense (בינת אדם). I have not learned wisdom, nor do I possess knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended heaven and come down? Gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hand? Wrapped the waters in his garment? Established all the extremities of the earth? (Prov. 30: 1-4)

Four are among the tiniest on earth, yet they are the wisest of the wise. Ants are a folk without power, yet they prepare food for themselves in summer. The rock badger is a folk without strength, yet it makes its home in the rock. The locusts have no king, yet they all march forth in formation. You can catch the gecko in your hand, yet it is found in royal palaces. (Prov. 30:24-28).

Who is the Sage Agur son of Yakeh?

These are the words of the wise sage Agur son of Yakeh.

Who is Agur? Proverbs tells us a little bit about him.

But to understand Agur’s bio, you have to go a bit deeper into the original Hebrew. And wander a bit from the usual translation.

Starting with his name: Agur ben Yakeh. Because it is not just a name. It’s also a statement of intention. Agur (אגור) means: I shall be a transient visitor. Yakeh (יקה) means: he shall be a fool. Agur ben Yakeh: I shall be a fool—for a little while.

Agur’s words come from Massa (משא). But massa, spelled this way, is not a place name. It is a state of consciousness. Specifically it is a trance, like the kind Balaam the donkey rider is famous for.

Itiel and Ucal may look like people’s names. But they are not.

Itiel (אתיאל) means “God is with me.” Ucal (אכל) means “I shall be consumed.”

Remember how the burning bush Moses saw was not ucal, it was not consumed? How it continued to exist as a bush bo’er baeysh (בער באש), burning with fire?

Well, Agur is similar—and different. Agur says he is ba’ar mei’ish (בער מאיש). His personhood is completely burned away.

He no longer has binat adam (בינת אדם), human wisdom.

So we are about to explore the words of a seer, a mystic, a visionary. Agur goes into a trance. He lets go of everyday consciousness. And he encounters a more-than-human reality.

Agur’s Cosmic Consciousness

During his trance, Agur becomes filled with the wisdom of the Creator. The One who, as Agur says, “has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hand, wrapped the waters in her garment, and established all the extremities of the earth.”

Agur has an experience of cosmic consciousness.

Maybe it’s an extraordinary sense of the Oneness of all Being. And of the oneness of all beings. A sense that a single spirit or energy runs through all of creation. Maybe even, as the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah describes it, a sense that this energy is God. It fills everyone and everything. No thing exists outside of it. Our bodies are made of it. So are our thoughts and feelings. So is every creature’s body, and every creature’s consciousness.

Maybe, in his trance, Agur the wise sage sees that all creatures possess divine wisdom.

But now Agur has returned to normal consciousness. And there is something he wants us to know.

The Four Wise…Pests?

Four creatures, Agur tells us, are chachamim mechukamim (חכמים מחכמים). Wise and filled with wisdom. Wise enough to make others wise, too.

Who are they? They are ketanei aretz (קטני ארץ), little ones of the earth.

Ants. Rock badgers, also known as hyraxes. Locusts. And the solitary common house gecko.

But let’s be blunt. These are four pests.

The ants sneak into our homes, carrying off our food bit by bit.

The rock badgers move into cities and set up camp in stone buildings.

The locusts swarm and eat a region’s entire seasonal crop.

The common house geckos hide in human homes and feast on the insects that our night lights attract.

But Agur wants us to see them differently.

Pests with Wise Consciousness

So, Agur invites us to do what he does.  Temporarily change our consciousness. Let go of our ordinary human perspective. And see these creatures as the Creator might. Good and wise animals. With wisdom we would do well to emulate.

Ants prepare. In cold seasons, they hunker down. Some ant colonies seal off their nests. But because they prepare, they survive well. Some kinds of ants store food. Others eat enough in summer to sustain them through the winter.

Rock badgers create communities. They shelter in rocky nooks and alcoves. But those habitats are quite exposed. So, to make it work, they live in big groups, fifty or so family members together. They make decisions as peers. At night, they cuddle up with friends who have different defensive skills.

Locusts organize themselves. When a large group is hungry, it flies off as a team. Together team members navigate, scout, land, eat, lift off, and do it all again.

Gecko lizards know when and how to speak. They have many different calls. But they also know when and how to hide. Each local species has blends with its environment. And an individual gecko can change the shape of its body and the size of its shadow. Even in a royal palace!

A person of practical wisdom—says Agur—will learn from these so-called pests. A wise person should know how to prepare. How to create community. How to organize and take action. When to speak out and when to hide.

Wisdom for Environmental Action

Up to here, I simply presented the words of Agur. But now I want to add something.

Why do these so-called pests move into human habitats?

When ants cannot find the food they need outdoors, they forage in our kitchens.

When city builders take over rock badger habitats, the badgers adapt. They shelter around our stone buildings.

When climates are disrupted, locusts are born. If solitary grasshoppers can’t find food and water in their usual spaces, their bodies and minds mutate, and they swarm.

When homeowners let their wooden houses rot, geckos find the houses especially comfortable.

Imagine, for a moment, that you want to protect some animal habitats. Or restrict city growth to what is absolutely necessary. Maybe you want to regulate fossil fuel industries more heavily. Or provide subsidies to help people build environmentally sound housing.

Now, imagine—if you can—government officials who insist that climate change and mass species extinction aren’t happening. Or, they believe it is, but it doesn’t affect them personally. So, they don’t want to do anything that might limit their wealth. Or their influence.

What might you do?

Be like the ant. Learn to live sustainably.

Be like the rock badger. Find a trusted group of peers. Study and plan together. Make good use of each others’ knowledge and skills.

Be like the locust. Act together for everyone’s benefit.

Be like the gecko. Take a job in city hall. Network and make connections. And, when the time is right, speak up.

Be like Agur. Honour your mystical vision of the unity of all creation.

And then ask yourself: What action should I take? And with whom?

And then do it.

**Interested in animals and ecological themes in the Bible? Check out my book Mouth of the Donkey: Re-imagining Biblical Animals**

Photo: Laura Duhan-Kaplan, stones placed in water by ritual participants

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