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A Lesson From Ants

By Canon Cate Edmonds

A couple of weeks ago my husband was watering a rather sad looking palm plant we have in the corner of our conservatory. As he poured the water into the very dry soil out scampered many ants obviously upset that their home had been flooded. Off they scuttled away from the flood to make a new home elsewhere perhaps. I have to confess I am not a lover of ants, but I do admire their ingenuity. I wondered how they had managed to get into what I thought was our well-sealed conservatory. Then I found a very small gap where the wall meets the floor, a thin wire had been removed and this was clearly where they were coming in. They seized the opportunity, founding their way to a poor unsuspecting and rather dilapidated palm plant.

Just the next day as I was driving into Exeter, low and behold there was a programme on the radio about ants and their ingenuity and community life. I believe that there are over 10,000 different species of ants around the world, but the particular species that was being discussed was the leaf cutter ant. I remembered seeing these ingenious creatures in the rain forest in Costa Rica. We had been fascinated whilst walking along a path at our feet we saw a long line of what looked like moving pieces of leaf. We stopped and looked closer. We could see that it was a line of ants carrying burdens at least twice their size, marching in an orderly row across the path, returning these pieces to their nest. I’m not going into the biology of ants and what exactly they are doing. Some of you reading this maybe starting to itch. 

The programme presenter explained that if something gets in the way of their set path, and these paths have been developed down through the ages, they pile up the cut pieces of leaf and wait for the obstacle to move. If eventually this was a permanent blockage another route was found or sometimes the pile of cut leaves grew so high they could climb up and crawl over the obstacle, then helping each other’s burdens down the other side. 

There are many things I believe we can learn from ants. They work together as a community to build, feed, nurture and support each other. They communicate with each other in order to sort out a problem and work together for a solution.

Christ calls us to work together to build God’s Kingdom where we are. He calls us together in unity. St Paul writing to the Romans emphasises this: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Romans 12:4-5)

Working together it is possible to overcome difficulties and challenges that life throws at us individually and collectively. But if we are bound together in one body, the body of Christ, we can meet challenges, make adaptions and move on together both physically and spiritually. 

The Brazilian entomologist Pedro Leite Ribeiro in his research on ants states: “The ants’ environment is fraught with so many changes and irregularities that any rigid orientation system would not cope and they have therefore evolved a system that meets the complex demands made by collective achievements.” 

Over the next few months, maybe years, as our Cathedral building work progresses, we will all have to work together to adapt to the changing circumstance in which we are worshipping. If ants can adapt I’m sure we can; “For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.” 1 Corinthians 3:9