Friday, June 24, 2016


On Wednesday night, Glenn met me after work and we tried out a new restaurant for dinner. We love “ethnic” food (isn’t all food “ethnic?”) and I’d spotted a Lebanese restaurant not too far from the site of my last scheduled appointment for the day.  (Scouting out new restaurants has been one of the joys of moving to a new place- we’re always looking for new ideas so, do tell.  We eat almost anything.)  We had a great dinner.  He had the lamb kebob and pilaf, I had a hummus plate with falafel.  The restaurant was crowded- even at 8:30 on a weeknight- which is always a good sign.  We left happy and full.

We drove home in two cars. (egregious carbon footprint.) When I got home and stepped out of the car, I was transported. The front yard was aglow with fireflies.  The on-again, off-again, momentary glow of the bugs lit up the space under the big tree in the front yard and all the way down the sloping lawn to the street.  Fireflies.  Hundreds of them.  Thousands of them?  I don’t think that I’ve ever seen so many all at once.  On last Saturday night we’d seen a fireworks show after the York Revolution game that was loud and bright-  this was every bit as exciting in a soft, pastoral, early-summer way.

I say that I was transported because, suddenly, I was ten again. Back at the house at the lake. (see my blog entry,  "Fried Bologna," June 3, 2016).  Besides catching night crawlers for fishing, the second-favorite hunter-gatherer activity that we kids enjoyed was catching fireflies.  We’d rummage around the pantry for an old mayonnaise jar, stab holes into the top of the jar using a rusty ice pick (a thoroughly dangerous activity for a ten-year-old) and then run, barefooted, in the wet grass trying to draw a firefly or two into the space between the open jar and lid… and then… snap! Capture the fly.

The point of this, of course, was to have the fireflies as a companions later on, perched on the wicker tables next to our beds, serving as living nightlights.

I am reminded of Peter.  The disciple Peter who, at the Transfiguration event ( Mt. 17:1, Mk. 9:2, Lk. 9: 28) in which Jesus astounded his inner circle friends by appearing aglow in a transcendent moment… and appeared in this mountain-top moment with Old Testament greats Elijah and Moses… What did Peter do? He pleaded to our Lord to give him time to build “booths” (sheds) in which Jesus, Moses and Elijah could sit-  in a sad and all-too-human effort to preserve the moment-  to hang onto transcendence- to capture it and preserve it and... to hoard it.  Luckily, Peter was rebuffed and his plan was discarded. Peter just never got it.  And neither did we:

The fireflies died over night. Every time.

In spite of the ice-pick holes, in spite of the bits of grass and sticks that we stuffed in the jar to simulate the “home environment,” when morning dawned, the bugs lay lifeless on the floor of the jar.  The momentary pleasure of the bugs just wasn’t enough-  our human-ness drove us to try to capture and preserve the gentle, glowing gift…. and,  it just wasn’t to be.

When I pray with a group (sometimes, several times a day, depending on how many meetings I have,)  I always pray for our awareness of God’s presence among us.  It is a not-so-small theological point that I like to underscore when I can:  God’s unfailing and abiding presence with us.  Too often, our prayers bid God’s presence (“Come among us, Lord God, Kumbayah”) when, really, the task is ours to “open our eyes to your work (and presence) in the world about us.” (BCP p. 372, paraphrased)

Looking for God and  acknowledging God’s presence in our midst, however, is not the same thing as trying to hold on to it- to capture it.    Our lucky moments in which we get a sharp, more distinct awareness of God (visions, clear direction, unmistakeable signs) are exciting and unusual and filled with grace.  Our call is to receive those moments, to learn from them, and to be grateful. Not to bottle them up for later.

The fireflies blinked and blinked in my yard for a long time that night.  After we’d watched a little tv and checked some email, set up the coffee  pot for the morning and called in the cat, it was time for bed.  I stuck my head  outside the front door for a few moments before heading up the stairs. 

I left the mayo jar and the ice pick in the pantry.


P.S. Did you know that the firefly (photuris pennsylvanica) is the “State Insect?” (David Rutledge and Anne Yellot did, and let me know, on Facebook.)  I was not aware that States
 ( and Commonwealths) choose State Insects.  Only two states have picked the firefly (Tennesee also claims a species of firefly for itself.)  29 of the 45 States claiming an insect have chosen butterflies, 17 have chosen honeybees and 7 have latched onto the ladybug.  Who knew?  Here’s the Wikipedia article on our firefly:

 Photuris is a genus of fireflies (beetles of the family Lampyridae). These are the femme fatale lightning bugs of North America. This common name refers to a behavior of the adult females of these predatory beetles: they engage in aggressive mimicry, imitating the light signals of other firefly species' females to attract, kill, and eat the males. Their flashing bioluminescent signals seem to have evolved independently and eventually adapted to those of their prey, mainly unrelated Lampyrinae, such as Photinus (rover fireflies) or Pyractomena.[1]
The Pennsylvania lightning bug (P. pennsylvanica) is the state insect of Pennsylvania.
Species include:
   Photuris caerulucens – Barber
   Photuris cinctipennis – Barber, 1951
   Photuris congener – LeConte, 1852
   Photuris divisa– LeConte, 1852
   Photuris fairchildi– Barber
   Photuris frontalis – LeConte, 1852
   Photuris lucicrescens – Barber, 1951
   Photuris pensylvanica – De Geer, 1774
   Photuris tremulans – Barber, 1951
   Photuris versicolor – Fabricius, 1798
There are at least 64 recognized species,[2] all restricted to temperate North America.[3] They mainly occur from the east coast to Texas.[4]

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