Snapping turtles

By Adam Thomas

Snapping turtles live in the muddy water underneath a dock that extends into Lake Kanuga. I know this because I have been slowly fattening them up with Wonderbread since I was eleven. I’m 26 now, and (while I’ve doubled my body mass in the intervening years) the turtles remain – stubbornly – about the size of my hand. All but one. There is the “Big One” that rises Kraken-like from the depths and that you only ever see out of the corner of your eye.

For years during the last glorious week of July, my friends and I have gone down to the water’s edge to feed the turtles. We used to sprint to the dock. Now we amble. Once there, we untwist our ordnance and pass out the sliced, carbohydrate projectiles. Some employ the patented tear-and-toss approach, which maximizes the number of pieces for the turtles to eat. Others drop whole slices of bread into the water and count the number of bites necessary to consume each piece.

Within seconds of the bread hitting the water, the turtles surface. Plop. Snap. The first breadcrumb disappears, and ripples are the only evidence the turtle was ever there. Plop. Snap. The second piece vanishes. Plop. Snap. We keep a weather eye out for the Kraken. Plop. Snap. There he is, the Big One, the Leviathan that God has made for the sport of it. Plop. Snap. No, it was just the way the light hit the water. Plop. Whoosh. Snap. Missed him again. Maybe next year. Plop. Snap. Plop. Snap. Plop. Snap.

The turtles propel themselves out of the depths, eyes on the dark spots on the surface. They trap the bread in their little, beaky mouths, and they dive again. They stay on the surface just long enough to snap up their sustenance before retreating to the darkness of the brackish shallows underneath the dock. After years of dropping bread to the turtles, I’ve realized that we do the same. We never stay topside in the sun for too long. We prefer the anonymity of the murk. We prefer to focus only on that bit of bread, a floating shadow above us. We prefer to surface only at feeding time, lest the daylight expose us to all the pesky problems of the world.

Now, I’m pretty sure that the above metaphor is thinly veiled enough that my impending addition of the Holy Eucharist to this discussion will seem both appropriate and timely. Here goes. All too often, we approach our worship with a Plop. Snap. mentality. For an hour and fifteen minutes on Sunday morning, we notice the Wonderbread falling from the sky, and we surface to snap up our fill. Then we dive until next week. Same time. Same place.

The trouble is twofold. First, the Wonderbread, heavenly manna, God’s grace – call it what you will – does not descend on us at predetermined times once a week. However, we condition ourselves to notice it only during those times we’ve set aside for God. We kneel at the altar rail. Plop. We lick the bread off our palms. Snap. In seven days time, we’ll commune again. In the six days in between, we are more than a little oblivious to the fact that God wants to commune with us every day. Indeed, we may say “daily,” but too often we mean, “Give us this day our weekly bread.”

Second, the surface is where the action is. The psalmist prays, “Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” God’s grace pulls us out of these depths, out of the brackish water underneath the dock. We surface in the brightness of day. As our eyes adjust, we notice all the injustice and desperation and fear that the murk makes easy to ignore. And as we share the bread and cup, we remember that the Body we ingest connects us to the greater body of Christ in the world. Jesus says to his disciples, “ If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.” Being children of light means remaining on the surface, knowing we share our lives in a larger community, and addressing those inequities that the light throws into sharp relief. We can accomplish none of these if we dive back to the depths – back to anonymity and ignorance – immediately after receiving our nourishment.

When we begin to notice the abundance of God’s grace around us, which pulls us to the light of the surface, we can break out of the cycle of the Plop. Snap. mentality. Silent ripples should not be the only signs that mark our ascent to the surface. Just as God blesses Abraham, God blesses us so we can be blessings in the world. God nourishes us with the bread of heaven so we can nourish others.

At the end of July this year, I will once again amble to the dock to feed the turtles. I will toss the bread into the water. Plop. Ever vigilant for signs of the Big One, I will watch the little, beaky mouths spear the soggy pieces. Snap. And I will pray to God that we can all remain on the surface, paddle there in the light of the sun, and serve our Lord.

Adam Thomas, one of the first Millennials to be ordained priest, is the curate of Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, WV. He blogs at

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