By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published June 24, 2010
“Aunt Lorraine, come quick!” It is only 6:30 a.m., and frankly, I’m very groggy. My husband and I are on vacation in Florida, sharing a condo with our niece and her family. We’ve had a long stretch of eating too much, taking long walks, playing card games late at night—and waking up a bit too early.
Now I yawn and follow Jenifer out to the deck that overlooks the Atlantic, expecting to see another phenomenal sunrise. But what I see absolutely staggers my heart. It is a chills-up-the-spine, once-in-a-lifetime moment.
A huge momma sea turtle is laying eggs in the sand, right below our balcony. A small crowd has gathered outside, many still in their pajamas, to witness this special event. You see, these gigantic creatures are rarely seen in broad daylight, usually climbing from the sea during the night to lay their eggs by the sand dunes.
In moments, we are out on the beach to get a closer look. As we watch, spellbound, the mother turtle uses her flippers to throw sand on the eggs, then ponderously turns her gigantic body and heads slowly toward the sea. She picks up speed when the sea water rolls over her nose, and then, as she slowly disappears like a gigantic rock beneath the waves, the crowd bursts into a spontaneous round of applause. A few moments later, volunteers mark off the nest with sticks and ribbon, plus a sign warning people to stay away.
This is definitely one of those events that I call God moments, when you are mesmerized by something happening right in front of you—and your troubles are washed instantly away. Years ago, Jef and I had a God moment when we were out boating and were surrounded by porpoises, so close we could hear them breathing. Another time, we were visited by two curious manatees.
Later that day, I think about Jesus and how much time he spent immersed in nature. We have that wonderful image of him on a boat in a storm, calming the waves. And there is that scene after the Resurrection, when he is on the shore cooking fish for his friends. Surely Jesus too had these enchanting moments when he came across turtles, porpoises and other magnificent sea creatures.
Still, there were skeptics in Jesus’ time and plenty more today, people who fail to see God’s hand in nature. But how else can we explain the mystery of the sea turtles? Each year on the Atlantic coast, between May and October, the females follow the same pattern, emerging from the sea on a new moon to climb up the sand dunes, lay their eggs and cover them with sand. Two months later, just like clockwork, the babies will hatch and claw their way through the sand to the surface of the beach. In some equally mysterious way, the babies know they must immediately head to the sea.
Skeptics will sniff and say, “Oh, it’s just instinct,” but who put the instinct there? Others will say “Oh, it’s just evolution,” but who guides evolution? Without a belief in God, how can anyone explain the vast mystery of these ancient rituals? How can anyone explain an intricate process that has ensured the survival of sea turtles from Jesus’ day to the 21st century?
Seeing the turtle was definitely a God moment for me. And now that I am once again living in a city far from the sea, I think about the little nest each night before I fall asleep. I imagine the tiny creatures growing quietly there, hidden beneath the sand. And I say a prayer to the one who watches over the sparrow, asking him also to keep his eye on the turtles.
Artwork by Jef Murray. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More Church in Decatur. Lorraine’s two latest books are “Death in the Choir,” a mystery set in Decatur, and “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a book about Catholic writer Flannery O’Connor. You may e-mail the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.