The general rule at the Aquarium is not to give animals personal names. But we couldn’t resist with “Stumpy.”
The little ochre sea star had only one of its five arms left, after an “incident” with a sea otter (ie lunch.) But slowly, over the course of a whole year, Stumpy grew back all four arms and was restored to its original five-armed beauty. Stumpy lived in the Touch Pool Exhibit and we touched Stumpy gently and cheered it on every day – Keep growing! You can do it! (Luckily, no otters in that exhibit.)
And Stumpy could do it. Sea stars can do it, completely regenerate arms bitten off, using the cells in their central disk. Some species can even intentionally release an arm, let it go to the predator, to save the rest of its body, and then grow back a new one.
(This photo of a six legged star is not Stumpy, obviously, but you get the idea.)
So, Gospel According to Sea Stars:
-Regeneration is actually pretty common in nature – we can donate half our liver and it will grow back. We’re more aware of loss, but renewal is really the law of the land, and the sea.
-Thanks to our God-given regenerative brains cells, we are learning some amazing new ways to help each other – scientists are learning from sea stars and flat worms and other regenerators about the mysteries of stem cells. Maybe some day there will be hope, and limbs moving again, for paraplegics.
-Sometimes the best thing to do is just let something go, and trust – and see - that a new thing will grow in its place.
-It’s probably a good policy not to name wild animals – we can anthropomorphize them and think they are our pets or property. Just think about the orcas Shamu and Willy.
-But sometimes a name can help form a bond - I call you by name - and we care a little bit more about that other being. All those nameless women in the Bible – did no one care about them? We cared about Stumpy!
I got thinking about stars because of we are now in the church season of Epiphany, the star shining in the east, and I am trying to pay extra attention to the many epiphanies, revelations of God, in our world.
Sea stars seem like little epiphanies, surprising revelations of wonder and beauty and healing power.
There is something so poignant about the wounded sea star and so moving about its slow and determined healing.