I have recently joined the Willamette Valley Mushroom Society. I decided to join because I find myself being fascinated by the mushrooms I see when I'm out hiking. I've understood the importance of mushrooms in our web of life but identifying species, particularly those that are gourmet, has compelled me to learn more.
Did you know that a mushroom is the fruiting body of the mycelium? What is a mycelium? Wikipedia defines it as...
Mycelium (pl.: mycelia) is a root-like structure of a fungus consisting of a mass of branching, thread-like hyphae. Fungal colonies composed of mycelium are found in and on soil and many other substrates. A typical single spore germinates into a monokaryotic mycelium, which cannot reproduce sexually; when two compatible monokaryotic mycelia join and form a dikaryotic mycelium, that mycelium may form fruiting bodies such as mushrooms. A mycelium may be minute, forming a colony that is too small to see, or may grow to span thousands of acres as in Armillaria. The network of mycelium acts similar to human brains, in the way that mycelium is used to send electrical signals to the fruiting bodies of mushrooms. These electrical signals can be used to convey information or warn about incoming danger.
Did you know that mycelia can be used to produce everything from plastics to plant-based meat to a scaffolding for growing organs—and much more? Check out this Scientific American blog to read more.
OK, that's cool but I bet you are asking, what does that have to do with faith?
As Christians, we are a people who form networks of communities and individuals who exist throughout societies in the magnificent variety of faith and practice that makes us Christendom. There is no one Christianity, just like there is no one mycelium. And when we allow our particular form of Christianity to join up with compatible communities (ecumenism) we have the capacity to produce fruit (mushrooms!).
Christian communities may be "minute" and the "colony" that is formed may be too small to see from a statistical perspective. However, many minute communities and networks have grown over time to cover the globe! And many formerly large and thriving networks have contracted as other colonies have been more adaptable to the changing landscape in which we all live.
As I learn about the mycelium under my feet, I was surprised to see that the prized fire or burn morel is often found in the burned areas of a forest the spring after a burn. I was also surprised to discover that the golden chanterelle can fruit well into December and in 1999 was declared the official state mushroom!
The amazing adaptability of just these two species are like the adaptability of Christian congregations that face life threatening conditions and come back with a greater capacity to be a blessing for the world. Whether the Christians in Gaza and West Bank who are drawing on the mycorrhizal relationship with other Christian communities who are calling for ceasefire, or the Covenant Churches who have left their denomination over their theology of inclusion of LGBTQIA Christians, what so often feels like death has proven to be the most life-giving path forward.
And the life-giving magic is in the connections we make; in the shared celebration of a faith that is bigger than we can see, more supportive and life-giving than we acknowledge, and more fruitful than we realize.
How many of these mushrooms can you identify?
So, the next time you see a mushroom, on your dinner plate, or in the lawn, thank God the mycelium of our faith through which all blessings flow!
Here's to a fruitful new year!