The Grand Canyon, Symbiosis and the Church

Having spent the majority of my childhood in Flagstaff, Arizona, I tend to refer to The Grand Canyon as my backyard, a giant God-shaped playground that I spent many hours trekking, swimming, climbing, and laughing in. My dad used to wake us up at 3:00 am by whistling a descending “canyon wren” tune, then plop my sister & I into the car. We would drive for two hours, then wake up at the beginning of the trailhead, where we descended into the darkness, one foot in front of the other, the only light streaming from our headlamps stuck firmly to our foreheads. As we stepped down into the gigantic black abyss, the eastern horizon would turn from black, to navy, to light blue, and the world around would become visible, before finally the sun burst forth, cascading light in every direction. At this point, we would celebrate by frying up crispy southwestern-spiced hashbrowns with our backpacking stove.

In high school, I took a rafting trip down the Grand Canyon, and was hooked. Determined to become a river guide, I worked a few summers as a raft guide learning to read the river and navigate the Canyon’s rapids. Here’s a shot of me “hanging” off the edge of the canyon in high school…


So you can imagine how thrilled I was when my dad received his private permit to raft down the Grand Canyon for July of 2013.  My parents had always dreamed that our family would go down the Canyon together, and although it had been twenty years since he had originally applied for the permit, God’s timing is always perfect. After coming off an intense 11-month mission trip around the world, this trip through the canyon was quite therapeutic for me. What I needed most was time to rest, recover, and reflect on this crazy place we call our world. It turns out that the Canyon was just what the doctor ordered.

The canyon’s waters washed over me, cleansing me inside and out. Its light warmed my sun-bathing body, radiating off the red sandstone rocks below. The smooth pebbles and limestone boulders massaged my feet as I climbed up the side-canyons barefoot, the trickle of cascading waters filling my ears. Some rapids rejuvenated my child-like spirit and others left me awe-struck, reminding me of the power of the mighty Colorado River. Here’s a few shots of our journey:

   BS_Grand Canyon Jubilee_2013_0665BS_Grand Canyon Jubilee_2013_0324   Fotor072210011BS_Grand Canyon Jubilee_2013_0743

The Grand Canyon can be one of the greatest teachers you can come by. And this visit in the canyon left me with an appreciation for the interdependency of organisms in nature. God creates things to depend on one another – a mutual relationship in which both benefit. Each one, without the other, isn’t quite complete.

Take the relationship between the Sacred Datura and the Sphinx Moth, for example. The datura flaunts beautiful white trumpet-shaped flowers, some almost five inches tall.


Each bud begins in a tight spiral, and as dusk approaches, the flower gradually loosens its grip before finally “popping” open, releasing a delightfully sweet fragrance. Call us crazy, but my mom bought a datura plant, and my family has spent many a night sitting in lawn chairs beside this plant, waiting for hours in anticipation for the final pop. While many teenagers went to the movies, my sister and I watched plants. I’m pretty sure that qualifies you as a nerd.

Because of the depth of the datura flowers, not many insects can pollinate it. However, the sphinx moth is hand-crafted with a six to eight inch long probiscis tongue. As the moth indulges, it becomes “drunk” by the plant’s powerful hallucinogenic composition. I’ve seen sphinx moths hovering around the datura at dusk, just waiting for them to open like the craze of a drug-addict waiting to be satisfied. This symbiotic relationship is just one of numerous mutual symbiotic relationships that make up our world.

We seem to understand that plant and animal species need one another to survive, and if even one organism is removed, the whole system is altered. Think of how much we fight when even one species becomes endangered. The population of Humpback Chub (a species of fish native to Grand Canyon) was devastated when the Colorado River went from being warm and muddy to cold and clear after the dam was put in in the 1960’s. Many people fought to save the species, with hundreds of thousands of dollars being spent to relocate native fish in hopes they would continue reproducing.

My question is – Why don’t we have the same approach with one another – people of different ethnicities and backgrounds, or even denominations? Why do we fight harder for fish than we do for our brothers and sisters who are hurting? Why is it hard for us to understand that everything that God has created is made to mutually depend on each another – humans included? Yet still, we fight, we war, we hate…

“The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensible…(1 Corinthians 12:21-22)

The word here for “indispensible” means more than just necessary – the Greek word used implies being connected by bonds of nature or friendship. In fact, the word “symbiosis” originally referred to people living together in community. It wasn’t until 1877, when Albert Bernhard Frank used symbiosis to refer to the mutualistic relationship in lichens.

I’ll throw out one more term. Remember the word “ecosystem” from science class? It’s defined as “the complex of a community of organisms and its environment functioning as an ecological unit.” We think of this term as referring to the natural world – but what if we think of the church as an ecosystem, as a complex community of organisms and our environments functioning as a unit? Really, that’s all we were created to be.

But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it (1 Corinthians 12:24-27).

I don’t have many answers, but I do know one thing: Nature is one of our greatest teachers. Let’s continue to learn from one another and from the world around us, putting hindrances aside, so we can be the body of Christ that we’re made to be.

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2 thoughts on “The Grand Canyon, Symbiosis and the Church

  1. Incredible. Insightful. Inspiring. Thank you, Kelly, for creating a post that pulls in the earth and the heavens… God sure teaches us using both, what we see and what we can not. Love you, friend!

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