Cicadas and Socrates
How many are your works, Lord!
In wisdom you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures!
You had to know that a cicada post was coming one of these weeks, right?
If you live in the mid-atlantic region like many of us, then chances are you have experienced cicada mania this month. (similar to Beatlemania, but without the great hair). And if you live in a different part of the country, then it's likely you've heard the news stories. Billions of Brood X periodical cicadas have emerged from the ground to take up residence in our... everywheres. They've been underground for nearly two decades, and after 17 years they want to experience all that the above ground world has to offer. And they are getting all up in our business.
They aren't here to hurt you. Some of you are terrified of them (that's ok) and some of you are fascinated by them (that's ok too) and some of you are collecting them in buckets and dying their empty shells blue with berry juice (that's a little excessive, kids). But if you live anywhere near trees or lawns, they're hard to miss. And then there's the sound. A constant humming is always noticeable around the clock right now. Sometimes it's so loud around our house that it sounds like a distant ambulance forgot to turn off its siren. Their music defies labels. It feels like it's always building. There are choruses within the choruses, pulsing in many parts, yet one sound.
They've spent 17 years living underground, just waiting for these 6 weeks of flying, mating, laying eggs.... and singing. If you waited so long to emerge, wouldn't you want to sing around the clock as well?
It's as if the cicadas know that they are fully alive, with a short time to live, and they refuse to live silently.
Socrates was really into cicadas, at least according to the (likely fictionalized) conversations Plato wrote about his former teacher. In Plato's Phaedrus dialogue, Socrates makes a note of the spot that his friend has picked for their conversation: “How lovely and perfectly charming the breeziness of the place is! And it resounds with the shrill summer music of the chorus of cicadas.”
Socrates believed the lore that cicadas were of divine origin. They were once human beings so filled with delight that they sang and sang, neglecting food or water, until they died and returned as these messengers. They continued to sing constantly and bring a report back to the Muses of the most honorable humans who were concerned with divine and noble thoughts and actions. In the above conversation, Socrates is intentional to speak of valuable and honorable things with his partner within earshot of the cicadas so that “perhaps they will be pleased and give us the gift which the gods bestowed on them to give to men.”
That's super weird. I don't believe any of that.
But this idea that the cicadas sang constant praise to (g)od, and bragged about the beauty of other humans... that's interesting to me. What if I heard the cicadas in that spirit? What if it inspired me to do the same?
What if I lived like my time here is brief and valuable and worth making noise in all the right ways?
Though I believe that I will live forever with Jesus at the renewal of all things, I still long for these years of my life, birthed out of the dust and before returning to the dust... to be a resurrection song, much like the cicadas. I want it to be bursting with sound.
I want to be so aware of the fragile gift of life and the sacredness of those around me that I am constantly singing praises to God, and constantly reporting publicly about the beauty that I see in the people as they bear God's image. Why do we have such a tendency to do the opposite of both of those things? Complaints about life and complaints about others can dominate our waking hours.
Far too often, like the story Jesus tells of the seed that fell among thorns, worry and stress rob us of the joy of singing freely. We become distracted and forget the gift of life that we've been given and the gift of salvation we have in Christ. In our stress we become more critical of others instead of more complimentary of the beauty we see in them (there is beauty in everyone). And we remain far too quiet in this brief time we're given, instead of singing our hearts out (note: extroverts and introverts will practice this is vastly different ways).
This may be an odd image for you today. But what would it look like for you to hear the constant hum, or see the cicadas flying around you, or simply notice the abundant sunshine of the approaching summer.... and begin praising God more fully than ever before for the gift of life? How might that transform how you relate to your neighbor, your brother, your child, or your coworker? This week, let's delight that Jesus has given us new life, and let's love accordingly.
Jesus, stir my spirit to rejoice in you and speak in praise of others.
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