Seeing Sticks Underwater
A beaver has three eyelids.
Its brown eyes are open, lid-free at night so it can navigate the rocks and rills of its environment. Mr. Beaver’s nightly grind has him carrying sticks to work, storing food in the pantry, and maintaining the family home. He’s monogamous; the whole extended family lives together. Night after night, each member does his or her part to contribute to the necessary toils of life, all the while keeping both eyes open for the unexpected. A paddle wounded by a snapping turtle. A baby tumbling off a wobbly rock.
But during the day, beavers close their two eyelids, one up, one down, and curl in to their carefully manufactured lodge (not to be confused with the workplace “dam”), and rest. Their tired mammal hearts fall into rhythm with the whispery snores of the children.
Still, twilight comes, and the beavers stretch, yawn, and are forced underwater. There’s no avoiding it. The food cache is hidden underwater. The front door to the house is underwater. The foundations of the dam are underwater. The underwater world is just as much a part of life as is land. Down he must go. Yet when the busy beaver fluidly transitions from land to water, his third eyelid (technically called a nictitating membrane) instinctively covers his eyes from left to right like a camera shutter.
In a blink the beaver can see what we cannot. These high tech goggles allow him to swim toward what is hidden beneath the surface. Water vision offers him the ability to confront the snakes attempting to play too close to home. Water vision makes it possible for him to repair the loosening foundations of his workplace and to build his home on a steady rock.
Without these lenses, evolved from many years of necessary adaptation, the beaver’s life would crumble into sand.
Recently my oldest son, the one quickly nearing that age when one begins to gather sticks for one’s own lodge and dam, was putting together a large piece of furniture with me. We chatted about his research paper on black holes as we passed Allen wrenches and translated Vietnamese instructions. Einstein, Steven Hawking, aliens, God, and our seemingly insignificant speck in the universe all set their place around that partially constructed table.
It was not a fun couple of hours. I had a sermon to write. He had a Fortnite battle to win. The nail holes were not aligning. The wood was heavy and cumbersome to lift. Our speech grew terse as the time passed. We were out of snacks, except for a box of cereal.
Yet, at some point during this less-than-amusing game of furniture Twister, contorted sideways to hold one slab of wood into alignment with my right foot and the other with my left hand, I read the back of that cereal box that was sitting on the floor a few feet away.
“Did you know beavers have a third set of eyelids that work like goggles so it can see underwater?”
My attention returned to my son who was lying on his back tightening screws, and the wood in my hands began to tingle with the holiness of the moment. In an instant, I saw what was underneath the surface. His questions about Hawking and our planet were actually research about his place in the universe. His words about God and time travel were questions about omniscience. The ability to put this pile of sticks together without spiraling into a fit of rage was a spiritual discipline and a skill to equip him for home building.
With the blink of an eye, a mysterious sheen filtered this mundane moment.
Then the screwdriver fell. We both jumped, the wood fell out of alignment, frustration rose, and the lens of enchantment broke. But the words on that cereal box burned my mind. God forbid a beaver see the other world more clearly than I do.
So ever since, like a tenacious beaver, I blink. When the men of the church spend 12 hours laying new wood floor in our building, I see beneath the quarter round and sledge hammers to where the harmonies of deep relationships are being written.
I slide that third eyelid across when a woman talks about her struggles to speak with confidence in a small group, and see her voice disconnected from her bod—a body that is perfectly and wonderfully made by an incarnational God. I get to work with God repairing the underwater damage.
A young couple calls me for advice on how to navigate a financial problem. I blink that nictitating membrane into place and see their sacred struggle to be good stewards of the money God gave them as they learn the highs and lows of Trinitarian love.
There’s a whole other world out there, enchanted and mysterious, just beneath the surface. It’s this world of underwater sticks that support the foundations for life and ministry. There’s no way a beaver is going to be more in tune with it than I am. So I blink.