Go to the ant, you sluggard…
In 2012 I took this photograph of a line of leafcutter ants in a Costa Rican jungle. I had no idea what exactly they were doing, why they were doing it, or where they were heading. There they were, purposefully carrying a weighty piece of leaf they had chomped off with their jaws. Did they carry these home like carpet samples, planning to make their colony cosy? Did they feast merrily on them, asking if anyone else had noticed the enormous two-legged strangers in the vicinity today? I don’t remember what our guide told us about these remarkable insects. What I do know is that I thought they were amazing.
Almost ten years later, in January 2022, I watched a TV programme called The Green Planet, where David Attenborough showed us a trail of ants, bringing leaf bits home for an enormous fungus which provides safety and nourishment for tiny baby ants. Without politicians and without the power of speech, the ants run a highly organised society where every individual has a place and a usefulness. Large fellows are defenders of the colony; smaller beings are caretakers of the young. Adventurous types are foragers and leafcutters. Even miniscule ants have a role. They ride on the backs of larger workers and defend them from carnivorous flies looking for a tasty meal. Everyone is valued. Figuratively speaking, no-one has to sit outside the Co-op and beg. No-one has to go without a meal because they’re too poor to eat.
Do the ants have a perfect society? Not quite. As far as I know, stop to hold their faces up towards the sun’s warmth and light; they don’t admire a sunset, or bury their noses in a rose. They don’t gather together to share stories, and they don’t write books or record their history.
Especially important is this. Ants don’t ask questions or seek answers.
Go to the ant you sluggard,
consider its ways and be wise!
I ask myself, what is it God is saying to me personally here? Or to anyone working hard to do their best and to look after their family in a world plagued by turmoil, terrorism and hate?
Is your first instinct the same as mine, to feel a bit upset, to want to say, just a little resentfully, ‘Hey God, I’m not a sluggard,’ and sigh pitifully to make the point.
But then I think, OK, God knows I’m not lazy, and so what is He saying?
He’s telling me to wake up my brain, to rouse myself from complacency.
Go to the ant. Look at the ant. Observe the ant.
So let’s turn to the lowly and mighty leafcutter ants and ask ourselves what we can learn, because they actually do something we as people have only partially mastered. They look after their own, however large the colony grows. Everyone is fed. Everyone is contributing. Everyone has a value.
No-one is more important than anybody else. No-one is less than anybody else.
We humans must remain alert, and refuse to let our minds coast towards sluggardliness, towards accepting all things as they are, towards sinking into the belief that we can’t do anything about so many injustices in God’s beautiful world. As individuals we can do tiny things, and together we will make a difference in the world.
We all have our own way of making a difference in the world.