The Glory of Difference


Different birds and different people

In November 2014 my wife and I decided on an autumn break in Madeira. It is situated just under 400 kilometres (250 miles) North West of the Canary Islands. Its origin as volcanic Island at the top of a massive volcano that rises about 6 km (20,000 ft) from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, on the Tore underwater mountain range over 5 million years ago, continuing until about 700,000 years ago.

Being partly isolated from mainland Africa species that make up the regular breeding birds have in part become distinct sub species of some common mainland birds and migrants. There are a few species on Madeira that have become isolated for so long that that they are now separate and “endemic” species only found on Madeira.

It is part of evolution in action with an isolated population that has lost contact with others and so adapts in its own unique way to the environment and so and isolated gene pool may become slightly but distinctly different to the former race to which it belonged. For those species that become “endemic” to a small region of the earth then there is a sense of seeing something unique, only to be seen in that place which can be a source of wonder. Unfortunately it also makes them vulnerable to extinction if something goes wrong with the habitat.

The relative isolation of Madeira means that is does not have a huge list of regular species but it is the endemics and sub-species that are of the greatest interest to birdwatchers. (I am also told that the Island has many exotic and endemic plants as well).  On my target list of “wanted to see” included the endemics Trocas Pigeon, Plain Swift, Madeira Firecrest, Berthelot’s Pipit and the subspecies of Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Chaffinch. We ended up seeing all of them, as well as some other accidental migrants and more recent arrivals from Africa.

 Although previous travels to parts of India and led me to see “endemics” and unique subspecies in various regions it was on Madeira with is much smaller and compact geography that the sense of uniqueness struck me the most. I also had cause to consider that little piece of theology by Duns Scotus that God has created a world of great difference of form and being, stemming from the Being of God. It is a differentiation that is loved in all its variety and uniqueness. God loves all the difference and it is all part of God’s glory.

From the  such differentiation in nature we may turn to the differentiation between people, in their race and culture, and despite the fears often raised by this it also something to be loved and embraced as God does. God loves the uniqueness of each person and things that exists and if we are the Children of God, they are ours to love as well. This is something to be remembered when there is often fears about “immigration”. We must always look beyond race and culture in thinking about worth, and see people in their unique individuality, which linked with their origins is not confined by it. They are to be loved, as God loves their individuality in which they have been shaped.