Wednesday, April 18, 2018



The general rule at the Monterey Bay 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.)

(I’m rerunning this column from a few years ago because we had a Stumpy incident in our own house this week involving Ron and the table saw.  Keep reading to learn the outcome, but suffice it to say, our human bodies do not recreate/restore the way sea stars do, so Ron has a shorter thumb than he used to…..and it will never grow back.)

Stumpy could keep growing.  Sea stars can 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 someday there will be 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!

Sea stars always remind me of the church season of Epiphany, right after Christmas, the star shining in the east.  But actually all year long I try to pay extra attention to all the epiphanies, the 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. 

Thanks, Stumpy.
I post these devotional reflections about ocean stewardship and spirituality every Wednesday, here and on Facebook  When youth and adults come for service trips and pilgrimages to our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove, CA, we always make a “spiritual” visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and meet various Stumpies. for info and availability.

Ron’s thumb was reconstructed this week, not by nature or regenerative cells, but by the good folks at Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.  It will never go back to its old self, but it is happy and healed. (Well, a little pain still.)   We have all agreed that it is time to retire the table saw.  Much fine building can still be done by restraint, with less, not more.  That’s another post…..Be careful out there, especially with power tools.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Chromatophore Compassion

Chromatophore Compassion

“Are you hungry, or just happy to see me?” said one octopus to another, whose body was changing color in a split second, from milky white to fire red.  That’s how octopus communicate, changing the pigment colors in their skin.  White to red could mean, “Shall we make babies?”  A different color change might be a warning, like a stop sign: “Back off, pal.  Don’t mess with me or my garden.” 

We animals communicate in so many ways.   Octopus remind us how important are our visual cues.  And how varied.  How do they do this?  A feature of their skin is chromatophores, cells that can change color and pattern. 

At the cool “Tentacles” exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, you first meet different octopus species, like the Giant Pacific and the Flapjack.  Then there’s a big interactive display like a TV studio, where guests of all ages sit before the screens and are invited to imitate the octopus: communicate by grimacing and smiling and pouting into cameras.  Face recognition software recreates the cephalopod conversations; smile and you turn red, grimace, and you become mottled and blend in.

We become octopus.  We laugh and change our face some more.  “Look at me!”   Smiling opens our hearts to our cephalopod brothers and sisters in delight and compassion.  You leave the exhibit feeling a closer bond to these cephalopods.

Instead of presenting the octopus as objects – wow, look at this weird animal – the exhibit connects us, subject to subject; we have more in common than whatever separates us.  We all want to be safe in our gardens, we all want to be in touch with others, we all want to spend quality time together.  And we surely could all stand to pay more attention to visual cues.

As I smiled, watching others clown for the camera, I felt my heart opening a bit, to learn more and love more about my new marine friends.  Hearts unfold like flowers before you.  God wants us to love all creation, and to smile and empathize with our brothers and sisters.  Thanks, octopus.
I write these devotionals about ocean stewardship and spirituality every Wednesday here and on Facebook.  Our Blue Theology Mission Station welcomes pilgrimage groups to the Monterey Bay all year long – we are pretty full for summer, but check out for future times and ideas.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Easter Seals

Easter Seals

Easter morning.  Newborn harbor seal pups and their moms at Hopkins Beach on Monterey Bay. 

On this protected beach, off limits for nearly 100 years (I took this photo through a strong fence,) the seals know they are safe from human hunters of the past and excited tourists of today.  This is their home year round, and their birthing place each April.

They are Easter Seals!  For the moms, the dark days of groaning in travail are over.  For the pups this is a blessed birth-day when all things are made new.

Monterey Bay itself has been reborn as an Easter empty tomb in recent decades, as vast stretches of beach and ocean have been set aside as reserves and sanctuaries (a nice holy word) and a move toward ecosystem management has set an overflowing dinner table for more and more creatures. 

Our Blue Theology Mission Station welcomed 15 youth from two Oregon Disciples of Christ congregations this Holy Week.  They helped restore new plant life on the Asilomar dunes, cleaned up beaches, saw the mystery of whale and dolphin and these baby seals, and let the sea wash their feet in a Maundy Thursday beach worship in the dark.

“St. Francis invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness… Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty.

“Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”  (Pope Francis, Laudate Si, 12)

“Consider the lilies of the field…Yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these.”  (Matthew 6)

“Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
 Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.” (Song of Solomon 8)

Happy Eastertide from the Blue Theology Mission Station!
(I post these devotions on ocean spirituality and stewardship every Wednesday here and at Info on group visits for youth and adults: