In all my years as a tour guide, I have never failed to see a look of wonder cross the faces of my patrons as they gaze upon the beauty of the Atlantic Coastal Salt Marsh.
The salt marsh eco-system is a vitally important piece of our natural landscape. If you live in New Jersey and have ever driven down the Garden State Parkway, those wide open plains that resemble prairie lands, those are salt marshes.
The salt marsh performs a number of crucial services for the well-being of wildlife and humans alike. These waving acres of grass are the "nurseries" for most of the major fish species that we find on our dinner tables. That striped bass you enjoyed for dinner last night most likely entered the universe via one of our local salt marshes.
Though these areas can appear calm at times, a violent circle of life is revolving just below the surface. To begin with, the grasses of the salt marsh are very important for certain types of fish. Every time a tide recedes, it brings with it nutrients collected from the grasses. These microscopic meals are then gobbled up by the numerous varieties of filter feeding fish that call the salt marsh home. As soon as those on the bottom of the food chain are satisfied, the bigger fish then feast on them, only to find themselves eaten by those hungry birds that hunt the salt marsh. The circle of life is red in tooth and claw.
But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of these unique areas is the way they expand. These salt marshes are dominated by the annual grass Spartina Alternaflora; a plant that dies back each winter, and then decomposes. As the roots start their slow recycling process, gradually a new layer of sediment will be formed. And this is no muddy, silty foundation; this is firm, solid ground that you could drive a car over. And trust me, I've had my car in it, and it's heavy duty stuff. (Though I'm not paying for your tow truck if you try it with a MAC truck.)
Death making all things solid...
When I think on the composition of this favorite habitat of mine, my mind wanders to the Martyrs of the Christian faith. What courage it must take to face the final enemy in the name of your ultimate friend. What heights of faith, what depths of love must be required to die for what you believe.
I think of Stephen, the faithful one who set the precedent for the acceptance of martyrdom. I think of Peter, hanging upside down, of John being boiled in oil.
Fast forwarding through time, I think of the great European theologians who chose to die to themselves, so that we might have a true understanding of what God's Word says. Wycliffe, Luther, Zwingli, great men all who suffered persecution, who died to themselves, just so I could have the firm foundation of the Word of God to stand on.
The story of the true Church has not been a peaceful one; it is a saga drenched in the blood of those who chose to emulate their Master.
When I look at a salt marsh now, a parallel portion of my brain kicks into gear, ruminating on the Christian life. I see life everywhere; activity is the common denominator, a constant undercurrent, whether in a marsh or a body of believers.
But I also look on in a somber reverence, fully aware that we are called to leave a solid foundation for the feet of future believers to stand firmly on.
Fully aware that it may take dying to keep the legacy alive.
I am sharing this on Spiritual Sundays.