Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Beginning of the Birth Pangs

And Jesus said to them, “This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

Sometimes the assigned Gospel reading does not give a preacher much comfortable material to work with. Today’s lesson is one of those readings.

Jesus is exiting the Temple mount with his disciples who are clearly awed by the spectacular buildings of their sacred complex. Jesus responds to their oohs and ahs with a dire prediction: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another, all will be thrown down.” He then launches into a litany of apocalyptic woes coming to Israel ending with this enigmatic assertion: “And this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

What might that mean? The birth of what? Who would have the power to destroy this gleaming stone Temple complex the disciples so admired and why would anyone do that? No doubt the disciples are confused at this point. And this morning we find ourselves asking how we can make sense of these words all these years later. 

Did Jesus Really Say That?

 In looking at this text, the first question that comes to mind is whether this is actually Jesus speaking to us. The writers of the Gospels have proven very adept at placing words in Jesus’ mouth that speak the concerns of the communities they inhabit toward the end of the first century. These writers readily dip into the inkwell of Hebrew Scripture to create dialogue for a Jesus that none of the Gospel writers had actually met. A good example of that is Mark’s reference in today’s reading to “wars and rumors of wars” that comes directly out of the book of Ecclesiastes.

In many ways, it’s a lot easier to believe that the writers of today’s passage are speaking to us from the other side of the actual destruction of the Temple by the Romans that occurred in 70 CE than to see these words as something Jesus actually said. While Jesus stood in a long line of prophetic voices in Jewish history, there is nothing to suggest that he was a psychic who predicted the future.

Biblical scholars are divided over the historicity of this passage. But the point on which most agree is that Jesus was more than willing to critique the practices of the Temple cult of his day. The chances are that the roots of Mark’s prediction of this catastrophe that will actually occur 40 years later when the Romans destroy the Temple lie in Jesus’ blistering comments about its sacrificial system and ritual practices.


Pennies from the Precariat

To get a sense of that critique we need to briefly return to last week’s gospel, the story of the Widow’s mite. There Jesus is highly critical of the practices of some very self-satisfied Scribes of the Temple cult. He mocks the finery they insist upon wearing, their loud public proclamations and their love of banquets that included only the finest of Jerusalem’s elite. He decries the self-indulgence of a Temple cult which earns its living by collecting the moneys given for Temple sacrifices, often from those who could little afford to give them. This was a system tilted in favor of the wealthy who were able to give more and accordingly to receive more acclamation for their generosity. 


But that is only half of the picture. It is no accident that Jesus’ criticism of the predatory practices of the scribes who were repossessing the homes of widows thus rendering them homeless immediately precedes the story of the widow’s mite. While the wealthy were able to give from their excess, the widow gave all she had. The social approbation expected by those who make a loud showing of their large gifts will not be coming to this woman. Unlike the coins of the wealthy donors which rattle noisily down the treasury repositories, the widow’s two small coins will make only a slight tinkle as they fall down the brass receptacles into the collection of coins below.     


It is in the Temple courtyards that the glaring inequities of Judean society were exposed, inequalities that Jesus found abhorrent. As is often the case with Jesus, what he observed there broke his heart making it impossible for him to remain silent about what he saw. So it is not hard to understand how Jesus’ critical remarks about the exploitative behaviors in the Temple courts could ultimately provide the basis for gospel accounts in which Jesus is depicted predicting the demise of the Temple.


Divided Kingdoms Collapse

Another famous line from the gospels might give us some insight as to why this happened. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus will utter the words that Abraham Lincoln would make famous during the Civil War that “
Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.” In Judea, the tensions within that society would finally reach a breaking point in 70 CE when the occupying Roman Empire would lose its patience with the ongoing uprisings of zealots. They would destroy the Temple, toppling building stones weighing several tons off the edge of the Temple Mount. Jerusalem would be burned and its residents permanently exiled from the city. In the end, not a stone would be left standing at the Temple Mount, just as Mark has Jesus saying. And before the Romans are through dealing with the persistent insurrections some 50 years later, the entire Judean population will be sent into exile.

 So, how could that have happened?

It happened in a country with astronomical levels of social inequality, a country in which the elite enjoyed wretched excess while the working poor were ground into the dust. It happened in a country where the culture’s chief religious institution proved more than willing to collaborate with an occupying imperial army and legitimate its domination by brute strength. First Century Judea was a country where the weakest members of that society were daily wrung dry of their very life blood to support a predatory elite. And it was in that context that Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple.


I must confess to you that I cannot read this passage without feeling a good deal of anxiety. There are no few similarities between Jesus’ Judea and the America in which we live today. Like Judea, we have armed bands of zealots all across our country ready to rise up to impose their vision upon the rest of the country and more than willing to use violence to accomplish that. Like Judea, we have the highest level of social inequality in our modern history, a factor that always generates instability. Like Judea, many of our working poor have despaired of holding meaningful jobs and lives, numbing their pain with addictive behaviors of all kinds with a record number of overdoses to show for it. Even our own Temple to democracy has come under attack by those willing to bring down their own government in the name of a populist messiah.


Amidst these deeply concerning realities, Jesus words are indeed troubling: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And today we hear him add, “[B]ut the end is still to come…This is but the beginning of the birth pangs.”

 What are we to do with that?



Good Things Can Come From Apocalypse

The birth pangs of Jesus’ first century Judea would prove to be apocalyptic. They would mark the end of the Judean kingdom. Before it was over the Jewish people themselves would be exiled from Judea.


Apocalypses always mean an unveiling of the reality that has always been present with all of its failings as well as a new reality just beginning to come into being. Apocalypses reveal the death of old ways of being human that can no longer be maintained. And they often mark the birth of something new.

With the loss of the Temple, a new form of Judaism would be born, led by rabbis and centered in synagogues and schuls. Rabbinical Judaism would replace the Temple worship in Jerusalem and the Jewish diaspora would spread out across the world, becoming shining lights in their endeavors from the arts to the sciences. Western culture owes a great deal of its richness to the gifts of the Jewish diaspora.


Simultaneously, another new form of Judaism would arise from these birth pangs, a sect of Judaism centered on the life and teachings of Jesus, eventually evolving into a religion of its own called Christianity. That would also prove to be a religious movement which would change the world. Our worship this morning owes its origins to those birth pangs, those transformative shifts that began in First Century Judea. 

As we look around us today, it is easy to be focused on what is dying. Death always involves grief and a sense of disorientation. As we lose aspects of the world in which we have grown up and in which we feel comfortable, it is easy to experience no small amount of fear, anger and, yes, sorrow. But what is being born in these profound shifts we are currently experiencing? What new way of being human might be yet on the distant horizon? How do we come to trust a future we cannot yet even imagine?


My guess is that a caterpillar ensconced in a chrysalis probably feels no small amount of anxiety as its body begins to dissolve. Everything it has known up to this point is slipping away and the future is not yet clear. But soon something new and very different begins to happen. And within days, the cocoon will open and a butterfly will emerge. The birth pangs of the chrysalis signaled the beginning of a transformation to a new and higher state of being.


Trusting G-d With Our Lives, Bodies and Souls  

In this time of upheaval when the old is slipping away and the new is not yet revealed, I believe G-d is calling us to trust the wisdom so beautifully articulated by Julian of Norwich that all is well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well. And I believe that the wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr that the 12 Steps groups have long embraced could also inform us here:


Lord, help us to accept the things that we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference.

There is a reason that is called the Serenity Prayer.

Our lesson today provides us plenty to consider. It tells us we are not the first to face the challenges that confront us but it also offers hope that even though we cannot yet see the new creation that is coming into being, we can trust G-d with our lives, our bodies and our souls to be present with us in those changes. And so I close with a prayer that has long spoken to me about life in a time of upheaval and anxiety. It is an adapted version of Collect 60 from our Book of Common Prayer. Let us pray:

Assist us mercifully, O Lord, in these our supplications and prayers, and dispose the way of your servants; that, among all the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may ever be defended by your gracious and ready help; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Sermon offered at St. Richard’s Episcopal Church, Winter Park, FL, November 14, 2021.




Harry Scott Coverston


 Orlando, Florida



If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.


Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi


For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures


Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)


© Harry Coverston, 2021



Thursday, November 11, 2021

A Black Rose Goes to Washington


Sometimes Florida Man gets it right.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to see the new sculpture that will be Florida’s gift to the National Statuary Hall early next year. The Daytona Beach News-Journal Center is currently providing an opportunity for Floridians to see this favorite daughter sculpture that will be Florida’s second statue in the hall. It is well worth the time and effort to visit. But more importantly, it is worth knowing the story behind it.


The Father of the Air Conditioner and a Traitor


Since 1864 our nation’s Capitol has provided each state a space for two sculptures which would represent the people and history of that state. The statues stand in the National Statuary Hall in the heart of the capital building.

Florida’s first contribution was a statue of John Gorrie. He was a scientist who spent his life seeking means to deal with the deadly diseases such as malaria which were rife in warmer climates in the early 19th CE.

Gorrie came to Apalachicola in Florida’s panhandle to conduct his research. Eventually he was able to create a mechanical means of creating ice used to keep patient rooms cool. His machine gave rise to what would become refrigerators and eventually served as the birth of the air conditioner. Many see the advent of air conditioning as the threshold of modern Florida which after widespread air conditioning of homes  became available in the 1950s grew from a small Southern backwater to the nation’s third largest state.

Little wonder Florida would want to remember this famous citizen. Florida’s first contribution to the National Statuary Hall was a marble sculpture of John Gorrie installed in 1914.

The second contribution to the Hall came in 1922 when Florida installed a bronze sculpture of Confederate General Kirby Smith. While Smith had been born in St. Augustine, he had spent most of his life outside of the state making him a nominal Floridian at best. Ironically, a statue of Smith would have been ineligible to be placed in the Statuary Hall when it first opened since he was busy leading a war against the country at the time. Whatever else Kirby Smith might have been, he was a traitor to the United States.

Smith’s placement in the Hall reflected the Jim Crow culture of the early 20th CE with its “Lost Cause” myth which prompted the placement of Confederate sculptures in cities and towns across the South in the 1920s. While ostensibly seeking to remember the righteous cause of a South defeated by “Northern aggression” (as some mythologizers still refer to the Civil War), in fact the subtext of these placements was decidedly political and economic.


Confederate soldier statue, Eola Park, Orlando

Jim Crow culture was determined to reverse any gains formerly enslaved people had made during the all-too-brief Reconstruction era following their emancipation at the end of the Civil War. Part of that agenda was accomplished by sculptures such as Smith’s that reminded everyone in not so subtle terms “We are in control. Don’t get out of line.” And where subtle reminders failed, a wave of lynchings and the destruction of African-American communities from Ocoee and Rosewood in Florida to the Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma, would make that point in deadly terms.

Long a source of contention among many Floridians, efforts to remove Smith’s sculpture  from the Hall took shape in 2015 when the first bills to replace that sculpture were filed. The following year in response to the shooting deaths of nine African-American parishioners by a white supremacist in a Charleston, SC church, the state legislature voted to remove Smith and then-governor Ric Scott signed the bill.

It would take another five years to remove the sculpture which only left the Hall this past September. Where it will go is unclear. Initial efforts to place the sculpture in a Lake County history museum in Tavares failed when the county commission there, under pressure from local community activists, rejected the move there.

Orlando Confederate statute removed, placed in cemetery with CSA dead, 2017

In 2018, the state legislature voted to replace Smith’s sculpture with that of Mary McLeod Bethune. The vote was unanimous in the Senate after Ocala legislator Dennis Baxley, a descendant of Confederate soldiers, was successful in adding an amendment that would allow the Smith sculpture which was then still in the Statuary Hall to be placed somewhere in Florida. In the House, the vote was nearly unanimous with the one nay vote cast by Jacksonville Representative Jay Fant opposing the bill saying

“Messing with statues is a fool's errand for the Legislature…I don't think we should even remove any of the statues that we have, including the one's that they're moving to replace here. … It's one of those issues that I think truly creates division within communities, this whole statue-removal business, and I don't want to be part of all that.”

The irony of an argument cast in terms of preventing “division” marshalled in support of retaining a statue of a Confederate general in the capitol of the country he sought to destroy in order to preserve slavery cannot be lost on anyone capable of even a modicum of critical thinking. Fortunately, this Florida Man did not prevail.

The Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement

The display the News-Journal Center has created is superb in providing an opportunity to see the beautiful sculpture of Bethune before it is shipped off to Washington. Once in place in the Hall it may not be possible to get the full round view of the sculpture available in its current display.

But more importantly, the display provides a very thorough discussion of the life of Mary McLeod Bethune. As a young black woman who had struggled out of an impoverished household to first educate herself and then to educate others, Bethune came to Daytona Beach determined to make a difference for African-Americans. Among her many accomplishments she would found the National Council of Negro Women, advise five U.S. presidents and create a boarding school for Black children that would later become Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.


In many ways, Bethune would prove to be the Godmother of the Civil Rights Movement. Her groundwork in advising Franklin Roosevelt’s administration on racial issues would create a fertile place for the justice movements that would arise beginning in the 1950s.

A poignant illustration of that behind-the-scenes role would come in 1946 when Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier in professional baseball. Refused a place to stay or a park in which to play during spring training in nearby Florida cities, Bethune invited Robinson to stay with her and encouraged the city to invite his Kansas City Monarchs team, an AAA International League farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to play the Dodgers in a spring training game at Daytona.

On March 17, 1946 Robinson would break the color barrier in professional baseball in City Park in Daytona Beach. That park, just down the waterfront from the News-Journal Center in Daytona, is now named Jackie Robinson Park.

Kirby Smith had only tangential ties at best to Florida. Bethune, a native South Carolinian who came to Florida at age 24 and spent the remainder of her life seeking to make it a better place, is a true native daughter. It is a great honor to have her represent the people of Florida in the National Statuary Hall.

A Number of Firsts


The other aspect of the Center’s display that makes it worth a visit is the extensive history of the artist and the process of creating the sculpture. There are a number of firsts in this exquisite work.

Nilda Comas, a Puerto Rican sculpture with a long history of works in marble, is the first Hispanic artist to have work displayed in the Statuary Hall. Her portrayal of Bethune will become the first African-American sculpture from any state and the first African-American woman to take her place in the Hall. She will also be the first sculpture bearing academic regalia among the 100 state sculptures.

  The marble used to create the sculpture came from the same quarry as Michelangelo used to created his immortal depiction of David. Comas was fortunate to get the last block of white marble to be taken from this pit which is now closed. The black rose, which Bethune loved, would come from a separate quarry in Spain. The marble from which it would be sculpted is incredibly fragile and required a great deal of care in its creation.

Comas would depict Bethune in academic regalia, perched on a pile of books representing her long role in educating Florida’s youth, holding the black rose. The rose reflects Bethune’s experience of a black velvet rose she encountered at a conference in Switzerland. Taken by the unexpected beauty of the rose, Bethune would say

I never saw a garden so beautiful, roses of all colors. And in the midst of the garden I saw a giant Black Velvet Rose. I never saw a Black Velvet Rose before and I said to myself ‘Oh, this is the great interracial garden! This is the garden where we have people of all colors, all classes, all creeds…


The pile of books on which Bethune’s figure is perched provides the third of the three points needed to insure a standing sculpture’s stability. On each of the books is written a word from Bethune’s final essay, “I Leave You,” completed just before her death. The titles are telling: Hope, Faith, Honor.

This sculpture is clearly a labor of love. Chosen from among 1600 applicants for the commission, Comas would travel to Bethune’s childhood home in South Carolina and assemble hundreds of photographs to get a sense of who Bethune was. She then traveled to Italy and Spain to locate the marble for her creation.

Three years of hard work went into this depiction which will be the first of two sculptures of Bethune Comas will produce. The second, a bronze replica of the marble version headed for Washington will soon grace the Riverfront Esplanade Park on the Halifax River in downtown Daytona Beach, just yards away from Jackie Robinson Park and Museum.

 My Sister brought her students from Pace Center Ocala and                 arranged to have the sculptor speak to us at the Center.

A Small Step Toward Redemption

This display was deeply moving. The work itself is breathtaking and the display that provided the history of the woman depicted and the artist’s loving process of production made that encounter even more meaningful. That was particularly true given my own life trajectory for the past few years.

Since 2016, I have worked with a group in Orlando, the Alliance for Truth and Justice, which has sought to commemorate the rash of lynchings that occurred in the early to mid-20th CE and the massacre of the African-American community in Ocoee, the same time frame in which Kirby Smith’s sculpture was sent to the Capitol. Our work has taken me from overgrown scrubland where an African-American community once stood near Ocoee to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery.


It was there I would represent Willie Vincent, an African-American agricultural laborer who had been tossed from a moving car onto the asphalt of US 441 near Oakland. He had died alone and no record of his death, much less his burial, exists. With no descendants or family of record to represent him, I attended the dedication of his memorial in Montgomery on his behalf and on behalf of our organization.

That dedication came only days after I had been leafing through family documents my Dad’s genealogy work had left behind only to discover for the first time that I was the descendant of a family who had enslaved other human beings. It was a great shock to me. And at that moment, the white privilege I had become aware of on an academic level suddenly became very real to me on a personal level.

I believe that it is the obligation of all Americans to know all of our history, warts and all. Loving our country requires knowing all of its story. That’s a lot more demanding than merely admiring its bright and shiny persona. It is only when we are able to hold our actual history together with our finest ideals that we can even begin truly loving our country.

The grave of Election Day 1920 Orlando lynching victim, July Perry, on Election Day 2020. Look closely. The "I Voted" sticker is attached to the upper left portion of the inscription.

Such knowledge is essential to the soul work of repentance - the rethinking of our understandings including the willingness to own the harm they have caused - and redemption. The work that our local organization engages in Orlando seeks to transform the evil that has occurred in our past and insure that its legacies will not continue to impact our lives in the future. As Franciscan Richard Rohr often observes, that brokenness which we do not transform, we transmit.

 Removing a Confederate soldier’s statue from the National Statuary Hall that has brought shame to our state for nearly a century is a long overdue act of repentance. It is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual recognition of a history of wrongdoing and an expression of contrition that is appropriate in light of that recognition.

Replacing the statue of a traitor with an exquisite marble rendition of one of Florida’s finest citizens, an African-American woman who called people live into their best and highest potentials, brings honor to this state I love. But perhaps more importantly, it is a first, small step in the long road to redemption.

Sometimes even the Florida Man gets it right.


[N.B., Many thanks to Dr. Connie E. Rivers-Mitchell for her expert guided tour. The official site for the display can be accessed below. Admission is free and available through Eventbrite]



Harry Scott Coverston

 Orlando, Florida


If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

© Harry Coverston, 2021


Friday, November 05, 2021

Chasing Butterflies, Feeding the Soul

My Mother always loved butterflies. They always seemed to capture her spirit – Light hearted, beautiful, fragile. 

Years ago at my Mother’s graveside service at the National Cemetery at Bushnell, we had just finished reciting the prayers of committal when seemingly from nowhere an entire flock of butterflies suddenly appeared among the graves just outside the outdoor chapel where we stood. Some of us saw it as a sign from beyond the veil – “I’m OK and I’ll always  be near you.” 

Like my Dad, I have always grown pollinator attractant plants in my yard. He grew them to draw the butterflies Mother loved. I grow them to do my part in confronting the challenge that bees and butterflies are facing in their struggle to avoid extinction. I also grow them out of love for the colorful eruptions of life that flutter across my yard as the butterflies visit the plants I’ve grown for them.

At a basic level, these plants and the butterflies they draw serve a sacramental role in my life, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. When I see the butterflies, I feel my Mother’s loving presence. And I always say, “Hello, Momma” when I see them.


Bearing the Souls of the Dead

I’m hardly the first to make this connection. The Aztecs believed that butterflies bore the souls of the dead. Around the time the monarchs have completed their continental migration each fall bringing them to overwinter in Mexico, the descendants of the Aztecs celebrate the souls of their ancestors with a colorful ritual that has come to be called Dia de los Muertos, Day of the Dead.

Depth psychologist Carl Jung often spoke of the archetypal energies which rose to consciousness out of a collective unconscious which all humanity shared. Reverencing the dead is a very human behavior. Thus, not surprisingly, observances commemorating the dead are seen in cultures around the world.

My Celtic ancestors celebrated Samhain marking the day that the veil between the living and the dead became thin enough for the dead to cross back over to visit those they had left behind. Our modern Halloween, literally the eve of All Saints and All Souls Days, owes its origin to that festival which, like Christmas and Easter, became Christianized feast days.

My Sister heard that the annual fall monarch migration was nearing its passage over the Panhandle of Florida. So when she asked if I wanted to spend Halloween butterfly watching with her and her husband, I was ready to go. A day when the dead are commemorated was the perfect day to go chasing butterflies. They even dressed in costume, Carole as the butterfly and Jim with the Panama hat and net of the catcher.

It’s a long ride from Orlando to St. Mark’s Lighthouse on the Gulf in the swampy, sparsely populated region of the state called the Big Bend. At some level, it’s like a journey back in time.

As we left the urban sprawl of Central Florida behind we drove through small towns with names like Cross City and Fannin Springs with their aging hotels, shuttered strip malls, gun shops and fast food joints. These islands of human habitation punctuate miles of pine forests and marshy wilderness. The “developers” have not yet arrived here. As we drove along we talked about the Florida we had grown up knowing, a Florida rapidly disappearing under the blade of the bulldozer and the bucket of the dragline. Increasingly the Florida we knew growing up no longer exists.

Undulating Waves of Orange

There has been a lighthouse at St. Marks mere feet away from Gulf coast waters since 1830. Long recognized as the best place to observe the monarch migration in Florida, it is located at the end of a 10 mile drive south of U.S. 98, the main highway which runs along the length of Florida’s Panhandle. 

It was here that I had seen the monarch migration 15 years ago while a graduate student at Florida State.Jung speaks of coincidences that prove to be meaningful as “synchronicity.” At some level that’s what I sense happened that day.

On a Sunday in late October I had left the Chapel of the Resurrection at FSU where I had preached and celebrated that morning. As I headed back to my apartment, I realized that I could not possibly stuff one more word from dense German social theorists into my head that day. Changing out of my dog collar into my civies, I climbed into my car whom I had named Imogenie and said, “Take me where I’m going.”

The next thing I knew I was nearing St. Marks.

As I came around a curve in the winding road to the lighthouse, the entire horizon suddenly turned orange. There were millions of monarchs there, feeding on the goldenrod then blooming. They formed undulating waves crossing the fields as far as the horizon. A cold front had passed through the region the night before providing a chilly day and a cobalt blue sky with a brilliant sun overhead. The sight was so staggering I lost my breath. I felt compelled to stop my car, get out and watch in awe as this amazing event transpired right in front of me.

Jung also speaks of experiences that prove incapable of being understood or explained in ordinary rational terms. He spoke of the “thrilling power” such experiences evoke in those who have them.


I think I understand what he was talking about. This encounter with the monarch migration absolutely blew me away. It is without a doubt one of the most deeply spiritual moments of my life. I have rarely felt as connected to creation and its Creator as I was in that moment. It is impossible to stand in the face of something so magnificent, so much larger than oneself, and not be moved to one’s core.


Beauty on the Brink of Extinction

I had hoped for a repeat of that incredible experience on this partly cloudy Halloween Sunday. But as we neared the lighthouse we had seen only a handful of butterflies. Nothing massive, no orange undulating waves. My heart sank.

At some level it was confirmation of my worst fears. The research I had done prior to our trip located a site from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which estimates that the monarch population in the US has declined by 90% over the past two decades. Not surprisingly, the decline is due to abuses by the human animal who rarely shares the biosphere with them in a thoughtful manner. The USFWS studies found that monarch declines can be attributed to loss of habitat, the use of pesticides in industrial agriculture and anthropogenic climate change.


Butterflies are only a portion of the pollinator population endangered by human behaviors. Bees, who play a vital role in the production of fruits and vegetables, are also endangered. We human animals have some hard decisions to make whose consequences are almost entirely in our hands as we stand on the brink of the ecological disaster.

Within a few minutes of arriving at the lighthouse, the clouds overhead broke. With the sunshine, the butterflies that had made the migration began to emerge. At first there were only random butterflies fluttering by. Then we began to encounter bushes covered with butterflies. Their frenetic movement began to slow in the warmer air provided by the sunlight.


We were able to approach several individuals close enough to get decent photos. And at that moment I realized that even without the spectacular show I had anticipated, it had definitely been worth the time and trouble to have come all this way to be present here for a couple of hours in this beautiful spot along the Gulf Coast.



As we walked along the nature trail paralleling the coast, we could hear the fishermen who had waded into those muddy waters seeking their daily catch. Across the salt flats, the sun sparkled on brackish waters in which long legged herons sought their dinner. A soft, cool breeze blew in off the water as we walked along the shoreline.

Whatever else this might have been, it was what the doctor had ordered this day, much like my previous encounter.


Good for the Soul

I have discovered that it is crucial to my mental health to periodically come to the coast, to see what is left of the Florida I once loved, particularly those places where the developers have not yet arrived. “It’s good for the soul,” I said to my Brother-in-Law. He quickly agreed. 

So where will we go to touch base with our souls when the last inch of coastline is cleared to build condominiums for the wealthy preventing access to the sea on lands that hurricanes and sea level rise may soon make uninhabitable? Again, we have some very difficult choices ahead of us. 

We would cap off the afternoon with a wonderful early supper at the century old Lodge on Wakulla Springs. It, too, is a treasure of old Florida now run by the state park service. The Springs have been used for a number of film shoots including some of the Tarzan movies and the 1954 classic The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Glass bottom boats still take tourists out into the crystal clear waters of the Spring and its run to see alligators, manatees and snapping turtles. It is a beautiful spot largely left in its natural state in the midst of a region that is rapidly growing. 

After a wonderful dinner of local seafood that began with a serving of fried green tomatoes, it was time for the long drive home. I am grateful to my Sister for having put this trip together. It was a wonderful day away from the duties of daily life. And even as I mourn the decline of the monarchs and the degradation of this state I love, it is always a privilege to be able to be present in this last remnant of a once magnificent stretch of the good Creation.

It really is good for the soul.




Harry Scott Coverston

 Orlando, Florida

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding. Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.

Those who believe religion and politics aren't connected don't understand either. – Mahatma Gandhi

For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d?  - Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. - Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Jewish Sages (1993)

© Harry Coverston, 2021