Swedish researcher Dan-E Nilsson has found that the box jellyfish, found mainly off the Australian coast, has one of the most sophisticated optical systems in the marine world. It has a cluster of eyes at each corner of its cube shaped head, making 24 in all. Its all-round vision enables the jellyfish to navigate in a crowded coastal environment but it can’t make as much use of its all encompassing vision as you might expect – the box jellyfish has no brain.
Human beings don’t have the ability to take in everything around them. We can’t see the whole picture and frequently have to make decisions knowing full well that there are factors involved of which we’re not aware. We can’t see the future or predict other people’s responses and it does sometimes feel as though we’re moving in the dark.
Unlike the jellyfish, we do have highly developed brains. We can use what information is available to us in wise and commonsensical ways. We also have something else jellyfish lack - an ability consciously to trust. If we could see everything, we would be like God. But we’ve been made without that capacity so that we learn to supplement our knowledge with a faith in God’s desire to lead us. Our openness to the flow of our lives, which sometimes seems to want to take us in directions we wouldn’t have chosen, is at the heart of what it is to be human.
If today, we feel frustrated by the fact we can’t know all we’d like to know or by our brain’s failure to process the information we have got in a decisive way, let’s call into play that other human quality – trust in God and openness to life’s flow.
Listeners to Radio Four’s “Thought for the Day” will have been distressed recently when Rabbi Lionel Blue mentioned that he was having “a second brush with mortality”. In fact, Rabbi Blue has already suffered a form of cancer and two heart attacks. He now has a serious skin cancer. “When a man gets into his seventies, the horizon becomes quite close,” he says. And a listener comments on the way this has changed the feel of Rabbi Blue’s “Thoughts”: “Every time I hear him, it is as if he is saying goodbye”.
In fact, the “horizon” is always quite close. Death is a possibility every day. Jesus tells a story* about a man whose horizons stayed firmly this side of death. It meant he got his priorities all wrong. Things do look different when we remember that life as we know it is limited.
This realisation may affect among other things what we say and do. As we go through today, it might be worth asking ourselves whether we would feel OK if the dealings and conversations we have with others were our last. However unlikely that is, it is a good test of the priorities we have in our lives to check that we would feel we were doing ourselves justice if, in everything we say and do, we were in fact “saying goodbye”.