Linnaeus for Lent

Here’s the idea. Take approximately 40 days to get better acquainted with about 40 species in the Chicago-land area. Why do I see robins, the harbingers of spring, in mid-winter? What are the names of the trees that I pass on my walk to work? What is with All. The. Geese? Could I really see a coyote? Why exactly do Chicago nature-folks spit the word “Buckthorn” with such vengeance?

The church season of Lent is an inbetween season, between winter and spring, between Christmas and Easter. Lots of folks practice Lent by giving something up – like chocolate or Facebook or alcohol or coffee. Though I understand the motives, I am ambivalent about the “giving-something-up” practice of Lent. Although last year, Pope Francis’s suggestion to give up indifference for Lent struck a chord. So this year, I am giving up indifference to the nature in my city. Besides, research suggests that 6 weeks is a good amount of time to get a new habit cultivated.

Why Linneaus? Carl Linneaus (1707-1778) is credited with being the “founding father of taxonomy.” Of course, gathering wisdom about the natural world by close observation and systematic classification did not begin with him. However, his system of biological classification stuck. The Latin names for plants and animals, like Homo sapiens for humans? Blame this guy. He’s a symbol for the well intentioned act of getting to know nature, the names of things, the ways they are related, similarities in the overlooked aspects. He’s also enchanted with order. This is my kind of thinker, scientist, practical theologian. One caveat. He and I would assign gendered language very, very differently, whether it be for God or plants.

For stunning photographs that capture his ordering, see the work of Helene Schmitz.

Linneaus is also my neighbor. An enormous statue of him sits on the University of Chicago campus. I desperately need to know how he came to be there, but so far, all I have of the story is the cryptic clues on the statue’s base: Relocated from Lincoln Park 1976.  From King of Sweden, April 19, 1976.

There he stands. Plants in one hand, gazing out over the green expanse known as the Midway Plaisance. I pass by him many times each week. On evening strolls during the summer, both my kiddos have concluded the day with a wave and the wish, “Good night, Linneaus.”

Linneaus for Lent is a tagline for the reminder that nature is good for the spirit – even in the city. There is recent research on this too. If I needed more convincing, a recent trip to Starved Rock state park with my oldest son sealed it.

Winter-weary we embraced an unseasonably warm day to join in the Bald Eagle Watch weekend. We only caught a glimpse of a Golden Eagle on the glove of a master falconer. No wild eagles for the crowds of visitors, but we hiked muddy trails, climbed canyons, and skated on frozen waterfalls. Our spirits were refreshed. We were reconnected to each other and to this little piece of the world just down the road from our home.

In the Lutheran tradition, the season of Lent includes putting away the Alleluias until Easter. I’ve been in churches where the children make banners with stars and Alleluias and quite literally bury them in a treasure chest. Where they stay. Sealed up until Easter.

Yet, Lent is full of little Alleluia moments. Messy hope showing up in places where it doesn’t really belong. Linneaus for Lent will be on the look out for them in, of all places, nature in the city.

Up next, Ash Wednesday Worms!

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