“A cool way to look at this school of sardines is to lie down here on the floor and just look up,” I said to the group of rowdy teenagers, on a mission trip with our church’s Blue Theology Mission Station program, as we entered the Aquarium’s fish roundabout exhibit.
Leading “spiritual tours” of the Aquarium, we try to encourage some silent time. “For the next few minutes let’s just look and listen.” This can be hard for these eager, gabby adolescents. (Actually, on our adult retreats it’s not much easier.) Now she wants us to lie down quietly in the middle of a noisy crowd?
But as the fish silently schooled round and round, the teens seemed to sink into the carpet, and sort of lined up themselves like a little fishy school, together in their own silence and awe, eyes and mouths wide open following round and round the silver circle.
“How do they stay together in the school, how do they know which direction to go, is there a leader?”
No, it’s their lateral line. All fish have it, along their side, a line of open nerve endings extending head to tail. It can sense the smallest of motions from the fish beside them. A tiny wisp of water displacement may signal the approach of a predator, and every fish will instantaneously flick with its school in a different safe direction. Likewise, the motion of possible incoming food – everyone turns and hunts together.
And for finding a mate? Let’s just say the lateral line is very sensitive.
The Aquarium’s staff newsletter is called The Lateral Line, good group communication.
I said to one of the adult leaders, “Can you imagine if people were that sensitive, could feel immediately what was going on with everyone around them?” And she said, “Well actually, lots of people, especially kids, are extremely sensitive to the moods and actions of others. That can be very emotional for them, but also it means they care. Sometimes I think we try too much to harden those feelings out of our kids,” she said. “We tell them - don’t you worry so much about other people, only take care of yourself. To their loss.”
(I’m reposting this from a Wednesday in May 9 we will host church educators and clergy for a special Blue Theology Day in Pacific Grove, including a visit to the Aquarium. Be in touch – use your lateral line! Bluetheology.com)2015, but the sardines are still there!