From Mary Ladd Gavell’s “The Rotifer”
As the lab instructor gives each of us a glass slide with a drop of pond water on it, he tells us that we are leaving the protozoa and beginning the long evolutionary climb. ‘Today we shall see the rotifers, who belong to the metazoa. We too, at the other end of the microscope, are metazoa; the rotifer, like us, has a brain, a nervous system and a stomach.’
I am fairly good adjusting the microscope, and soon I find the rotifers – furiously alive, almost transparent little animals churning powerfully along in their native ocean. Watching, I am a witness to a crisis in the life of a rotifer. He is entangled in a snarl of algae, and he can’t get loose. He churns, wriggles, oscillates, but he is caught. ‘Rest a moment,’ I whisper to him, ‘lie still and catch your breath …then give a good heave to the left.’ But he is in a wild panic, beyond any reasonable course of action.
Maybe I can help him . . . Cautiously, gently, I touch the slide. But the result is a violent revolution in the whole rotifer universe! My rotifer is gone, lost to me. Huge and clumsy, I am separated from him forever by my monstrous size; I can’t get through from my dimension to his.
The bell rings; lab is over. I take my slide out from my microscope; there on it is the merest drop of water, and I look at it uncertainly. I start to wipe it off, but hesitate. When the instructor sees me still standing, he asks anxiously whether I got a good look. ‘I guess so,’ I answer, and I polish the slide until it is dry and shiny and put it away.
In the book of Job, Job feels like a rotifer, in a crisis, entangled in a snarl of algae. After many chapters of questions and complaints, God reminds Job of the grandeur, scale, and complexity of this universe that he alone created.
But make no mistake. God’s message to Job or to us is not that we are an afterthought, forgotten before we were even noticed. He sees the crises, our struggles, our churning, wriggling, and oscillating. “I have observed,” God declares, “the misery of my people…I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3: 7-8).
God’s first act of grace toward us, it has been said, was to make us worthy of his attention and loyalty and love. And unlike the lab student who faced a chasm unbridgeable, God bridges the chasm between his dimension and ours.
Like Mary, we may wonder, “How can this be,” since we are so small in this vast cosmos. Earth appears as a “pale blue dot” in a photo taken by the Voyager, 3.7 billion miles from outer space. A merest drop of pond water.
Nevertheless, God enters our world; “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The poet John Donne puts it this way:
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-belov’d imprisonment.
There he hath made Himself to His intent
Weak enough, now into the world to come.
Luke offers a summary of the purpose of the great descent: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). God came for the entangled, churning in desperation and futility– which is to say, “all of us.”
The New Testament scholar Joel Green defines “being saved” as “a reversal of status,” from enslavement to freedom, from exile to coming home, “from panic and desperation to gratitude and praise.”
“We are rescued from the power of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).
We are the found and saved.