SYMBIOSIS AND COVID

Symbiosis involves interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association. It denotes a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups or species.

Symbiotic relationships are essential to many organisms and ecosystems, and they provide a balance that can only be achieved by working together. There are three basic types of symbiosis: mutualism, commensalism, and parasitism.

Mutualism is a symbiotic relationship in which both species benefit. Bees and flowers have a mutualistic relationship as well. Bees get the nectar they need to make honey by traveling between flowers. The bee brings pollen from one plant to another, resulting in pollination.

Commensalism is a symbiotic relationship in which one species benefits while the other species is not affected. One species typically uses the other for a purpose other than food. Tree frogs using plants for protection, golden jackals, once they have been expelled from a pack, trailing a tiger to feed on the remains of its kills, goby fish living on other sea animals, changing color to blend in with the host, thus gaining protection from predators, are all examples of commensalism

Parasitism is a symbiotic relationship in which one species (the parasite) benefits while the other species (the host) is harmed. There are many types of parasitic fungi that will attack various plants, fruits, vegetables, and even animals.

In the Bible, we see precedents for all these three types of symbiotic relationships existing, especially in the church.

In Acts 4:32 we witness mutualism when we read that All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Israel was instructed by the laws of God to care for the widow and the orphan, the poor and the needy as well as for the foreigner and alien who.lived among them. The Church also lived by this principle, a clear demonstration of commensalism.

Apostles Paul, Peter and Jude warn of parasitical people in the church who are blots and blemishes in their feasts, people who use and misuse the goodness of others in the Body of Christ for their own needs. In the Old Testament too, God warns the shepherds through the prophet Ezekiel for not searching for His flock but caring for themselves rather than for His flock and living off the flock (Eze 34).

I believe the best illustration of symbiosis occurs in II Cor 8 & 9 when the Apostle Paul commends the Macedonian churches for their generosity towards other churches in need and recommends that the Corinthian/Achaian churches follow suit. He points out the cycle of mutual benefit that results from such caring and sharing when he writes This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
(II Cor 9:12‭-‬15).

In these days of Covid, churches can follow this principle and demonstrate community concern and consciousness to a watching world through the acts of positive symbiosis. Not just commensalism symbolized in caring for those adversely affected, but also in partnerships of beneficial mutualism.

An example of such a relationship would be for larger churches with extensive technological resources to help the smaller ones, who lack such amenities, use their facilities to record and propagate their online services. The prayers of the latter will surely bless the efforts of the former and God’s love will be exhibited in a very practical way in a greedy and selfish society, making hearts sensitive to receive the gospel!

Churches do reach out to those in the community being hurt by the pandemic, such as migrant workers or those who have lost their income. However, church communities haven’t yet begun helping one another enough to warrant a community impact that will open doors and hearts for the gospel. Unless a community cooperation and coexistence is perceived, people around will never understand Christ’s love for the lost.

A city church adopting a struggling village church, serving it in times of need will go a long way in showing solidarity between members of the same family of God to those around. Just as the conduct of individuals and families is to adorn the gospel, the attitude and deportment of churches towards their needy brother/sister churches would provide context for the content of the gospel.

Not just churches, but Christian businesses and businessmen/women can also adopt and emulate the Biblical model of mutuality or commensality. This is not the time to behave like vultures to swallow up others because of the opportunity for acquisition, but rather exhibit charity in every way.

God’s way is for the mountain to be used to fill the valley so that a highway be made for all. He had this in mind when He told His people to care for the poor: Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land. Deut 15:10‭-‬11

Symbiotic relationships are showcased in nature to clue in us to God’s plan for mankind, as individuals and communities.

Let’s not be cunning as jackals or ravenous as wolves, but pure as doves and innocent as lambs, especially in this pandemic crisis!

*Pics courtesy unsplash.com and google images

WASTING OR (IN)VESTING SHUTDOWN

Shutdown, lockdown, rollbacks, cutbacks, layoffs and retrenchment are all dreaded words in the job market and industry circles. These indicate a loss, ruin, bankruptcy, failure, default, liquidation and debt. The current lockdown or shutdown is unique and unlike since it is not a result of any of these. It is an action that has been dictated and mandated as a consequence of a pandemic. However, in a way it can be said that it is not so dissimilar since there is loss here, the loss of the greatest resource on earth – human beings!

Shutting down for isolation or quarantine, and destruction are two sides of the same coin since one is the contraposition of the other. One warrants the other and one is the outcome or preventive measure of another. For example, evacuation is the last natural response or counter-measure to a flood or fire or storm, inevitable when all other efforts fail. It is done to preserve human life from becoming totally extinguished or extinct. Even though it is a moot point whether human life is worth saving, it goes without saying that human beings, made in the image of God need saving if not salvaging!

This period of lockdown that keeps extending and lengthening is aimed at saving people, not money or land or animals or plants or even the environment. It is an all-out effort to save the great and best resource of all. So to complain or crib against it is unreasonable and actually inhumane. If we haven’t seen and realised this, we would be cribbing about the measures being taken to sustain and preserve human life!

Having said that, it is time to run a reality check, to determine if we have realised and accepted that these measures are to prevent the extinction of the most endangered species of all at this time. If we have figured this out, we would know what to do or occupy ourselves with, during this confinement period. We have been restricted and contained at home, letting go of all that we once thought was needed and important for life. The question is how have been handling this enforced isolation and quarantine!

If you have been sulking and whining about being confined at home unable to go out, or putting tantrums and throwing your weight around, or needling those around you and venting your ire on them, or chafing at delays and being restless about the extension of protocol, then you have lost out!

If we are wise, we would use these extended periods of being shut up:

To recover health
With time to relax and rest, catching up on sleep would have been your priority. Weaning your system off junk food and indiscriminate eating, you would have started a regime of healthy wholesome food, proper hydration and regular exercise.
If you haven’t, you still have time. Start now!

To build and repair relationships
You would have used this time to spend time with family, getting to know them once again, grasping what makes each one tick, etc. You would have repaired breaches and built bridges in relationships, restoring those you may have lost. You would have forged new ones since you have time to talk and enquire, using the pretext of the pandemic concerns to your own advantage in this aspect. You would have tweaked your daily and weekly routine to include giving attention and showing concern for your spouse, playing and teaching your kids, put in place family activities and caught up with senior citizens in the family.
If you haven’t, you still have time. Begin now!

To learn and pick up new skills
You would have taken this season to do things you have never done before and maybe identified acumen you never realized you had, such as cooking, tailoring, painting, gardening, writing and such like. You would have picked back up a hobby you had in your school or college days, something you didn’t have time till now and enjoyed doing it alone or along with your family. You would have gone online and learnt something new, maybe another language acquired another degree or certificate may be, taken a new training, attended a workshop etc.
If you haven’t yet done it, start now!

To enjoy solitude and develop the art of meditating
Instead of being stressed out, you would have realised that you now had time to sit down and have a quiet conversation with yourself, with nature, in the quietness of the night or the early hours of the day – something you didn’t have energy or time to do because of a busy schedule. You would have learnt how to handle silence, listen to a song, heard sounds around and silently noted the rhythm and flow of life around.
If you haven’t done it till now, you still have time. Start now!

To assess and gauge your shortcomings
As your body began recouping with rest and relaxation, as your feelings and emotions began streamlining, you would have understood the mistakes you have been making, especially in relationships. You would have noted your misdeeds and found yourself wondering why you had to be so insecure or short-tempered. You would have vowed to change and become a better person, as you weighed your actions in the past and thought of how you would behave and treat others once this period is over.
If you haven’t at all, there is still time. Begin now!

To count your blessings and be thankful
Most of us have a roof over our heads, food to eat, a bed to sleep and a family that also has all these things. We have been truly blessed, especially in the light of the many migrant workers who have been stranded and trying to make their way home by walk. They have to depend on the courtesy of others and have to wing their way through life depending on the mercy of strangers. We need to count these things in our lives and be thankful to God for gifting us all things needed to exist in a comfortable way. We need to be grateful for this time to unwind, destress from hectic schedule and grace to spend moments with our family.
If you haven’t taken time to be grateful and prayerful, begin now. There’s still time to do so!

To look forward to new times and reset yourselves for a new normal
This season is so providential because we have been given the occasion to pull back, recuperate, reorient, repatriate losses and refocus for the future. Never has the human race faced such a time as this and given such a great opportunity to make amends and reorganize. It is the season to restructure our lives and set our direction according to a new normal, for life is not going to be the same.
If you haven’t thought through things, estimated the new future, sat down with the family and planned for the days ahead, don’t worry. Just do it now!

To value life and align your every priority towards preserving it
We need to understand that life is all about people, about saving and serving others around us. We need to cultivate generosity, weed out selfish narcissism, looking beyond what is of use to me and mine. We need to look past what belongs to me, what will benefit me and make every effort, as much as we can, to protect, preserve and progress life.
If you haven’t ever done it, this is the time to do so!

To understand the connectivity of humanity
We must understand that we are all part of humanity and share the same space in time. We are all brothers and sisters by virtue of being part of the human race, living in the same era in history. We need to accept and acknowledge that we are our brother’s keeper, and therefore responsible to do as much as we can to make life easier for those within our reach.
If we haven’t learnt this valuable lesson, it is time to do so!

To acknowledge the chain reaction reality of our existence
We need to seriously consider the impact and effect of being a part and parcel of the valuable flow and cycle of life. We are not living isolated and remote from others in society. We cannot afford to be estranged or detached from the community we are placed in. This pandemic has made us intensely aware and sensitized us to the domino effect and contagion impact of our existence. What happens in one remote corner of the earth will gradually but surely spread and seep into the economy, health, sociology, culture and politics of every other part of the world. We are all in a web of relationship and so cannot avoid or protect ourselves from this chain-effect.
If you have lived life as though you are the only one and that the whole world revolves around you, now is the time to change!

COVID shutdown time is a time to invest in and rethink many things! It’s a time to sit down and evaluate your life, something you may have avoided doing because of the busyness of life and the mechanical way of existence!

COVID lockdown is a Godsend, a gift from the Almighty to stand still, take stock, realign, restore and refurbish life as a whole. It is the blessing of God, a pause and reset time, a boon to be able to assess and zoom in on the essentials, weeding out the debris and extra burden we have as a species picked up on our way to what we thought was progress!

The question as we face lockdown 5.0 is: what have we done in this time and how have we used it. What have we, as individuals and families contributed towards saving and sustaining the sanctity of human life and livelihood. What are we going to do to conserve and perpetuate the human race, preventing its extinction!

The real question is: Have you been wasting or investing in and during the COVID protocols!

*Pics courtesy unsplash.com

EVERY TIME AT THIS TIME

Every time I happen to meet the sanitary worker responsible for clearing our trash, I stop to smile and thank her. 

Every time I watch the news or posts on medical and healthcare personnel, I appreciate them with a like or comment or a share!

Every time we purchase essential groceries, vegetables, meat and medicines, I thank God for businesses serving the community!

Every time I see the police maintain law and order, doing everything they can, even scaring the populace into quarantine, I bless their sacrifice to ensure our safety

The real super heroes of our times, I salute you!

*Friday Fictioneers is talented group of enthusiasts penning down a story, a poem, a prose, etc., expressing their heart about a photo prompt © C. E. Ayr

IS IT TIME FOR GREAT THINGS?

The prophet Jeremiah in the Bible is one worth knowing about, especially in this unprecedented pandemic and total lockdown days. 

Born into a family of priests from the town of Anathoth in Benjamin, Jeremiah was the last prophet before the Kingdom of Judah was carried away into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. Jeremiah is rightly called the prophet of doom tasked as he was with the message of imminent judgement. He had the unenviable burden of warning Judah of the immediacy of God’s judgement as well as the misfortune to see it happen in reality and actuality. It was during his lifetime itself that Judah was captured, it’s capital city destroyed and it’s subjects interred in Babylon. He was truly the Prophet of end times for the nation and had to live till his last breath among rebellious people who persisted in their defiance of God and His laws. 

Jeremiah is also called the Weeping Prophet for he was totally heartbroken with the message he had to preach and he was a true nationalist at heart. He suffered greatly at the hands of his countrymen because he wouldn’t preach a message that was favourable or palatable to them. He was called by God to sound the alarm of God’s judgement and His rejection of them as His people. He was one who paid the price for calling people to repentance, the most unpopular of almost all prophets because he preached an unpopular message!

Jeremiah’s companion and secretary, probably in his later years, was Baruch, son of Neriah, a young apprentice. Baruch was tasked with writing down all the prophecies of Jeremiah at the behest of God (Jer 36:2). Being privy to God’s prophetic utterance and the authentic knowledge of His plans put pressure on Baruch.  His association with Jeremiah affected him terribly for the message to his mentor, which he had to transcribe, was one of constant gloom and unrelenting doom. No wonder then God had to single him out to speak a very short, special and personal message in chapter 45 of the book of Jeremiah. 

For a young man, the death knell to his future and his plans for it would obviously be upsetting and terrifying. To be told that his world was going to end because of God’s decree of punishment would have rocked Baruch’s world and his visions of a rosy future! It was now his time to live and enjoy life, but what to do when God Himself was dismantling his world! The name Baruch means ‘blessed’, but Baruch probably felt cursed for being born into those times (Jer 45:3)!

Without mincing words, God tells Baruch “You said, ‘Woe to me! The Lord has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest.’ But the Lord has told me to say to you, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted, throughout the earth. Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’ ”Jer 45:2‭-‬5. 

The key note to Baruch was “Is it time to seek great things for yourself”! The Message version puts it well “…forget about making big plans for yourself”! God tells him, ” I am going to overthrow what I have built and uproot what I have planted throughout the earth and you are worried about yourself!” Baruch was worried about his own life and bitter that his plans cannot be accomplished at a time when the whole world was being judged!

How like so many of us who, in these days, are frustrated and in despair because our dreams and well-laid-out plans for our future are falling apart and collapsing like a house of cards due to COVID! We are belligerent because we feel robbed and cheated of our rightful future. We had such hopes, not just for us, but also for our children, and now all of that had been swept away with one stroke of a pandemic! Some of us were galloping merrily along life’s path, progressing well, having a good life and then suddenly all of it has ground to a halt by a stupid pandemic!

God’s answer to Baruch is the answer for us today: Is this the time for such thoughts of self! Is it time to rue the ruin of our calculations for a secure future! Is it time to curse our ‘fate’ for being born in this generation! Is it the time to view with a sense of loss your ‘ill-luck’ for being in this season! 

No, it is not the time or season for us to sit down with our heads in our hands and think of what we have forfeited. Rather, it is the time to sit down and take stock of our priorities, our focus and assess where we are going. It is time to realign our priorities and decide what we will be following and doing. It is time to become committed and build our relationship with God, seeking wholeheartedly to follow His precepts and to live by His standards. It’s time to seek to do His will and hanker after eternal goals rather than simply targeting temporal things. It is time to be serious!

We are in a period when tragedy has impacted the whole world, an unprecedented happening. COVID has become an uncontrollable and unimaginable event of epic proportions, rendering everything uncertain and vulnerable. The only stable and sustaining factor of life is God with His constancy. He is the only Rock on which we can stand amid the sinking sand. He is the sole guarantee of our future in the midst of the question of what might happen next in this world!

It is very comforting to note that along with the prediction about their captivity and their exile from the land, Jeremiah also prophesied about their return from exile and their settling back in it. He even gave a timeline (70 years) for their return and a reason for it (the land had to have all the sabbath years it had not been given) Jer chapter 25!

Even in the midst of His judgments, God’s compassion and mercy cover us with His promise of return and restoration. It is in the book of Jeremiah that we read the famous oft-quoted words: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ Jer 29:11 NIV! 

God is not out to destroy us or our future, but to preserve our lives in all that may happen, whatever may hit this world before His future arrives and plans for us come to pass. That was God’s promise to Baruch in that special message to him: ‘Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’ Jer 45:5 NIV. That was God’s Word to Baruch and it’s  His Word to us, a word of greatest comfort and anchor in troubled times!

May we use this time for a restoration of our love for God and a time of renewing our relationship with Him!

*Pics courtesy of unsplash.com and google images

LIVING UNDER DIFFERENT ECONOMY

In the Bible, in the history of the nation of Israel, we note two distinct phases of life and distinct ways of existence.

One, while in the wilderness, after being delivered from slavery in Egypt., and two, when they settled down in the promised land, after driving out those who lived there.

Both seasons saw them being helped and aided by the mighty and outstretched arm of God. In both, God was the Anchor of their life, the Provider and the Support of all they needed to be a nation. Be it protection, provision or preservation, He was the Shepherd and the Staff of their being a sovereign nation.

The difference between these two seasons of life was the way in which He provided for them and the manner by which He met their needs! 

In the wilderness, He was their Guide and Shepherd in every sense of the word, ‘going ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night’ (Ex 13:21-22). He sought out their resting places, led them by a way they did not know and took care of their every need – providing them daily with manna from heaven, opening rocks for water, providing shade with a huge cloud by day and light for their dark nights by a pillar of fire. He caused the east wind to rain quail, sweetened their rest with fruit trees, protected them from disease and the plagues of Egypt, and saw to it that their clothes did not wear out nor their feet swell all through the years of their desert wandering!

He protected them from the marauding bands and gave them the right leaders to judge their grievances. He covenanted with them to be their God and gave them his laws, forming them into a nation with an identity, equipping them to be an army and a host with proper ranks of families and tribes, tribal leaders and even an ordered way of pitching their tents around the tabernacle!

He converted them from a ragtag band of escaped slaves into a holy nation by endowing them with a proper and disciplined way of life, a social structure and a culture of worship that would set them apart and distinguish them as His people!

When they reached the promised land, He divided the land to them and settled them in it, causing them to inherit lands, vineyards, houses and cities which they didn’t plant, build or create and gave them a safe place to prevail as a nation. He blessed all their labour, giving them rain in season, healed their disease, oversaw the whole nation with leaders to govern and prophets to warn. He did not allow strangers or any other nation to overtake or overpower them, as long as they remained loyal to Him.

God was their Source and Guide, not just in the wilderness, but also in the land of their settlement.

In both, their provision, protection and preservation depended on only one criterion – that they would be loyal to Him and exhibit their allegiance by adhering to the laws He gave them for their own good!

Wilderness is a place of simple fare, just-what-is-needed-for-the-day supply, deficient of variety and with just sufficient provision-for-the-day being the only guarantee!

It is a life of total dependency on God for everything, an exhilarating but hand-to-mouth existence if you see it the way!

Yet it was the time that the next/new generation developed strength, stamina and stability to become a warrior nation, able to hold it’s own in the new land, quite unlike their fathers who still had the namby-bamby attitude of slaves and cried when told there were giants besides the good things in the land they had to possess!

In the wilderness, monotony birthed gluttony, uncertainty gave rise to grumbling and anxiety to rebellion, all of which were an affront to the God Who carried the Israelites ‘as a father carries his son’ (Deut 1:31). In spite of the fact that He gave them a demonstration of His power at the beginning of their journey, destroying their pursuers in the Red Sea parting, they did not understand that He led them all the way in the wilderness for forty years, humbled them, causing them to hunger and then fed them with manna, which no one had known before, in order to teach them ‘that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.’ (Deut 8:2‭-‬3)!

In these COVID days and in the aftermath of the quarantine days, we have moved from a predictable cycle of life to not knowing what tomorrow brings. We have moved from certainty to uncertainty, from variety of choices to a modicum of monotony and from sedentary placidity to unexpected changes and challenges.

The call facing us today is whether we will win over the dangers of the wilderness or imitate their conduct, testing Him with our impertinence!

We will have to determine whether we will depend on Him for our needs and provision, trust Him for our sustenance and learn to live by the new standards of His Word rather than of this world, daily!

We will have to decide whether we will grumble and murmur like them or imitate the One who faced the same temptation in the same landscape and was victorious in living by His Word (Matt 4)!

Personally, my family and I know the provision and care of God beyond the natural. When we pledged our allegiance to Him long year’s ago, we went through a season of trials in the area of our finances, health and relationships. God taught us to live by faith in our finances, trust in His Word for our healing and gave us a glimpse of the glorious riches of being part of His family.

We went through a season of financial constraint and had to depend on the supernatural provision, whenever and wherever the natural fell short! 

We had ample instances where we saw His care of us. Once when my dad ran out of fuel in his bike on his way home, no money in hand or a petrol bunk at hand, he just borrowed a bottle of water from a hut nearby, filled his tank with it, prayed and drove the remaining 15 km home with that as fuel in his tank!

We lived constantly in the miraculous. I remember the time when I longed for an apple, a luxury at that time and asked God as my Father to provide it. Two days later, an unexpected visitor gifted us with a whole basketful!

Nothing thrilled us more than to have such evidence of His presence and the reality of His concern for us. It helped cement our faith and trust in Him! 

Our God is yesterday, today and forever the same. He has not changed nor has He abdicated as our King!

It is time to understand what stuff we are made up and gird ourselves to walk a new model of living.

It is time for us to know, understand and accept that our seasons have changed. It is time for us to trust in God for everything and not depend on our regular sources/resources, but adapt to an unusual way of life!

He will be our Source, whatever may happen and however uncertain the days ahead maybe.

It is time for us to rest secure in the immutability of His nature, the immensity of His care and the irrationality of His supernatural provision for us!

It is time for us to adjust to the new economy and learn to live under the economy and provision of God!

*Pics courtesy of unsplash.com