While we were still at Ditchingham, a flock of sheep often used to come to feed on one of the fields nearby in late winter/early spring. I was intrigued by their behaviour, so looked up them on the internet to learn more, where I was interested to learn that sheep can learn to recognise individual faces, and remember them for years; they can also learn their own names. This adds a deeper dimension to John 10, where Jesus talks of being the good Shepherd, of the sheep knowing the Shepherd’s voice, as he calls them by name, and then the sheep will follow the Shepherd ‘for they know his voice’. The idea that this comes from actual behaviour of sheep makes the image clearer. It’s also fairly impressive, and reminds me that we share this earth with a variety of other intelligent creatures; and not just creatures – did you know trees communicate with each other? They can send scent signals though the air, and also communicate through their roots via networks of fungi. If a tree is attacked by insects, it can let others nearby know, so they can put up defences. So we are rooted in a creation full of other intelligences, although we may not recognise that intelligence, or acknowledge ways of communication that are alien to ours.
I find it exciting to explore these different areas, and see the ways our amazing world works, especially as relationship is so central to who God is: doesn’t it make sense that creation would replicate that? (Although I should probably point out that I assume it works from a scientific point of view as well. But I’m not a scientist, so I’m not getting into that here). Communication is central to us as well as to God and the wider world, even if not all of us find it easy (speaking personally here). We’ve found out over the last year how central it is to our lives and health, even as we have found out new ways of staying in touch. I attended an on-line Conference on Saturday for members of Anglican religious communities, those long established, many newer and some just emerging. It was very different from previous ones – but, I think, different not better or worse. We weren’t able to talk in person, and there was some opportunity for general chat, but not as much as in a residential conference. But it was far cheaper, there was no need to travel, and more members of Communities could join in than in a residential context. Of course, you did need an internet connection.
Communication doesn’t have to be person to person, as we have found out through exploring ways to stay in touch as a dispersed Community, although there would be a lot missing if we were never able to get back to that (even seeing people in person at 2 metres distance isn’t quite the same). We managed to have our Annual Chapter meeting last year, with Sr Pamela in Scotland joining in via video call. But it will be nice if this year we – hopefully – are able to meet her in person. Meanwhile, we give thanks for the wonders of modern communication systems for helping us to keep in touch, and many will no doubt continue post pandemic.
However we do it, communication remains vital to our lives as Human Beings, and to our relationship with our wider world; to acknowledge the intelligence of others that share our world may lead to greater respect not just for them but also for other people. Will it draw us closer to God? If you google ‘how to communicate with trees’, you will find a variety of answers, but being still in their presence and learning to listen to their voice seems to be the main point. (I’ve not tried it!). Learning to hear God’s voice also takes time and patience, a lifetime of learning. But God is there, ready and waiting to communicate with you, however you can, and calling us by name to follow, to become part of the one flock. Our God is Trinity, one in three and three in one, and we follow the Trinity together, as part of the one world-wide church, however divided, and however small our particular expression of it may be. We are still one flock, with one Shepherd.