Sermon: Cockroaches are my superhero too?

Isaac wearing spiders and wrapped in a spider web

By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
September 30, 2018 at Day House Catholic Worker

James 5:1-6

“Guess what Mommy? Cockroaches are awesome!!!” Isaac said to be right after school last week.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, they can hold their breath under water for a whole hour! (or at least 4 minutes) And they have a hard shell! Also, they took lady bugs into space where it was below 0 degrees and they were still alive. So lady bugs can live in space!!!”

It was with such joy and enthusiasm as if these bugs had super powers!

I read this reading from James with a group this week and realized that I was in the minority of finding this a hopeful reading. It seemed to bring out more feelings of fear or guilt or a wake-up call as we were all certainly among the wealthy oppressors in this global economy. I can hear that personal call too in what I do and how I move in the world and the need for real alternations. But I think that as I sit with the world these days, the idea of the poor being heard and the wealth being destroyed is incredibly hopeful.

  • I think about our political system that feels completely co-opted by the wealthiest and unapologetically making decisions that destroy the poor and make the rich richer.
  • So much of my heart these days has been on the testimony of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavenaugh and all the other stories of sexual assault that come pouring out. And I don’t think these stories are unconnected to wealth and masculinity.
  • I think about how quickly money is being poured into Detroit. If I don’t drive through Corktown for a week, my mouth drops at all the building when I come back.
  • I think about the powerful statements that were made last week at the press conference and in court by those who blocked the Quicken Loans Buildings and the Q Line arguing that all this building is not a “come back” for those living in poverty. It is serving the rich.
  • I think about how Isaac has no running drinking water at his school. About how even the new school buildings are testing high for lead and that probably means that none of us should be drinking our water. I think about all those in the city whose water is shut off. For when money is more important that the lives of the people.
  • I think about our neighbor who sat in immigration court this week who is probably beginning a deportation process. I think about how hard he works. How the courts steal his wages before deporting him. His labor is stolen.
  • And I hear this text where even the wages themselves cry out! I want to hear the stolen money cry out in this moment.

I am also struck by how physical and visceral this reading is.

  • How wealth rots
  • Clothes are eaten by moths
  • Gold corrodes

It is all physical and earthly. It is about compost and death.

It reminds me of manna in the dessert. Where if you take anything more than you need, it rots and stinks. It was a warning against the Egyptians who were building towers to hoard food and wealth. It is the same again here, when you steal or take more than you require, it rots, dies, and returns to the earth.

I was trying to think about how we could re-write this text in our modern world?

  • Can the moths go after the stock markets?
  • Can investments rot?
  • Can tax fraud me corroded?

It doesn’t translate. I began to worry, have we created a non-comparable world where things are abstract and indestructible? Where wealth cannot be dismantled?

I think about this season of fall which offers me such deep delight and gratitude in my soul. And I think about how everything about fall is death and decay and compost. It is beautiful. It is what allows for new life to be born.

And I realize how much gratitude I hold for the reality of death and for all that dies

And I hold real suspicion of all that cannot die and return to earth. (for plastics and stock markets)

I was lamenting this when Tommy Airey suggested reading Bayo Akomolafe who talks about our hope being in de-centering us humans. And that in fact it is through a communion of creatures that will heal this planet from destruction and climate change. It is in the promise of compost. Here is a piece of what he writes

“The way of relating with the world is now being haunted and increasingly being called into question. The world around us matters; it’s not merely decorative. And if we took this further, if we followed this wild stream of thought towards the tipping end, if we allowed that we are no the active ingredient in the chemical composition, we might find how we are being ushered into what some are called a ‘multi-species salon’- a world wherein complexity arises by infection, where a becoming-with is how things change, where we are not in charge of the outcomes but an aspect of the process…The world is going-on together. A becoming-together. This has vast implications of how we think about ourselves, others and the world. Perhaps today’s new openings in thought and action afford us an opportunity to build sanctuaries, places where people can feel safe and held, where a composting of ourselves can take place.”

So, as I battle a fruit fly infestation and now the Autumn entrance of mice into our house, I pause and hearing Isaac’s delight about the cockroaches. Maybe they really are the super heroes, the prophets, the teachers that will help rot what we have stolen and remind us how to live in earthly community.

The work becomes to try to de-center ourselves as human beings. Not to de-center our accountability or need to act. But de-center ourselves to give space

  • For the money to cry out
  • For the mold to grow
  • For the moths to multiply
  • Giving time to the earth and the host of watershed creations to respond to our destruction. We are not indestructible …and I give thanks for that.

So, as the leaves fall, I think of Andrea Ferich’s words in Bury the Dead. She was an urban farmer in Camden, NJ who wrote about planting apple trees in the places where women were murdered. This is how she begins and I hold it as an intention for us all in these days-

“Our bodies and the land are one. Move the earth with your body, dance on it, farm in it, play with it; our final return to it is sacred. The soil is made of clay, like you and me- hydrocarbon molecules, layers of geological and muscular formations, alive. The soil, the mountains, and valleys are layered with time like our layered muscle tissue. We dance on the earth in the face of death, for the healing of ourselves and healing of the land, connected as farmers, dancers, painters, musicians, and lover of the goodness of the good green earth moving through lament. Our bodies and the earth are one and their healing and grieving are interconnected.”

So, God bless
the mice in my cupboard
the moths in my oats
the cockroaches as they hold their breath
and the ladybugs in space

God bless
The falling leaves that become soil
The rotten, fallen apples and tomatoes that feed the worms

God bless
The work of mold and rot and decay
Of death and dying.

May they teach us a new way, an old way
May we be healed by compost
May we grow in love and beauty through our own decay
May we listen for the cries of what has been stolen
May we delight in the decompositions around us.

We pray for the towers of Manna to rot and stink.
We pray for the wealth to decay and return to the earth.
We pray that the shouts of the harvesters and the poor have reached your ears.
And we pray for justice to be planted a new in this rich humus.



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