I’ve long believed that we come to understand the “capital R” Resurrection only through understanding “small r” resurrections—the stuff of daily life, like sun after a long stretch of rain, a restored relationship, an accident avoided, health after illness, energy after inertia, seeing a problem that seemed intractable in a positive light, starting a difficult venture late in life. A woman who suffered terrible migraines saw resurrection in the miraculous effects of the right medication, and a nurse described how a dehydrated child, when hydrated, comes alive: skin glowing, energy restored.
In that spirit, we search signs of resurrection this season that are fresh, maybe not expressed in religious language, but still filled with liveliness. One of the most hopeful I’ve found is an “On Being” podcast recorded March 23, 2023. In it, Janine Benyus discusses biomimicry, based on her 1997 book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature.
“It’s a design discipline that takes the natural world as mentor and teacher, exploring the ways nature solves problems… relentlessly creating conditions conducive to life.” As Benyus says, “we are surrounded by geniuses.” “It’s an innovation practice where the people who make our world, the designers, engineers, architects and construction workers, when they go to solve a problem, say, “What in the natural world has already solved this problem?”
Take, for instance, abalone. “The mother of pearl on the inside of an abalone shell…is twice as tough as the high-tech ceramics in jet engines.” I won’t attempt to describe the chemistry that produces this material, but to sum up: what’s already in the seawater gets pulled in and coaxed into form, to self-assemble it. Designers learn from that how to create a glass that is extremely tough, layer-by-layer, transparent. The interesting thing about it is that no fossil fuels are burnt to create this glass.
So too people can learn about solar cells by looking at leaves. Material scientists study spiders and rhino horns, seeing how life makes things without kilns. They work in “a reverential state,” awed by the genius of the natural world, sounding like pragmatic, contemporary St. Francises. The compass statement for Benyus’ company, “muddy knees and epiphanies” came from a trip desalination engineers made to the Galápagos Islands. Benyus recalls,
“I walked by this guy named Paul, looking at a mangrove, a pretty buttoned-up engineer, and he was crying. Had tears streaming down his face. I stood next to him looking at the mangrove, and I could get that. It’s a pretty spectacular thing. And he said, ‘How is it that in my education, I’ve been doing this work for 30 years, 40 years, I’m a desalination expert. I filter salt from water, and this plant has its roots in saltwater and it’s solar powered and it’s desalinating. I’m crying because it’s beautiful and because no one ever told me.’”
Once, people made snowshoes by modeling the footprint of a snowshoe hare. Or they designed a chisel by looking at beavers’ teeth. Asking, “What would nature do here? What wouldn’t nature do here?” is a different spin: not learning about nature, but from nature. After 3.8 billion years, life knows how to live. God’s creation shines with marvels we’ve barely begun to explore.
I don’t understand it fully, but I’ve ordered Benyus’ book. And “attending to original vitality,” like St. Hildegard’s “viriditas” is a life-giving, resurrection theme. This vital research reaffirms that we’re made for the garden, not the tomb. God’s life penetrates ours, lighting the dark corners, bringing hope and spring beauty.
This only skims the surface. For more, see https://onbeing.org/programs/janine-benyus-biomimicry-an-operating-manual-for-earthlings
Such an interesting post Kathy! Thank you!
I find that these tiny resurrections help fight the hopelessness that Esau McCaulley writes of.