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The Christian Huddle

by Achille Vitale

“Wisdom calls aloud outside; she raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city she speaks her words: …” Proverbs 1:20-21

The Emperor penguin is well suited with unique traits for surviving the harsh Antarctic environment. It possesses some very distinct social features. Emperor parents share parental duties, as do most penguins. But their difference is manifested in the males’ collaboration while performing his part.

The male undergoes a 115-day ordeal. He will court, mate and incubate an egg and will not eat before the end of these days. His original 40kg weight may drop by half before returning to feed at sea. Furthermore he has to deal with an austere polar winter that gives rise to wind chill temperatures as low as - 60ºC. In these conditions, keeping himself and his 120mm long, 600gm egg warm in the bitter cold Antarctic winter necessitates rallying with the other male penguins.

In mid-May the female lays her egg then leaves to feed. For the next 65 days the male remains behind with the egg resting on his feet enclosed in a patch of bare skin on his lower abdomen and an abdominal fold that is lowered over the egg to keep it warm. The egg is never exposed to the elements except when the male transfers it to the female upon her return. The developing chick in an egg that is accidentally tipped on the snow and abandoned, can freeze to death in two minutes. Soon after the transfer, which takes about ten seconds, the male returns to sea to feed and the egg hatches.

Huddling

These remarkable birds contend with freezing -45°C temperatures, excluding wind chill. They also face ‘Katabatic’ winds that blow off the polar plateau downwards, intensifying temperatures and blizzards that reach a wind speed of up to 200 km/h.

To survive in these conditions, the emperors form colonies and stand in compact huddles. Although the male’s chest size is similar to an average man, in a huddle, as many as ten of them pack into every square meter during inhospitable winter days. These tightly knit enclaves of ten, or multiple hundreds of birds, reduces exposed surface areas and heat loss by up to 50% enabling the fasting birds to conserve body fat longer. The temperature in the interior of a huddle can reach a high of + 35°C.

Their huddling behavior is an extraordinary act of co-operation in the face of a common hardship. Each penguin leans forward on a neighbor with the outside birds typically facing toward the center. For the duration of the huddle the emperors appear to behave as one, seemingly losing individual identity. They all take turns occupying the warmest, and coldest positions in the huddle.

With their eggs resting on their feet, the outer layer of Emperors exposed directly to the wind slowly shuffle down the sides of the group away from the windward edge, and gather on the opposite side sheltered from the wind. The subsequent layer of birds joins the procession creating a slow churning action. Each successive outer layer peels away from the windward edge and envelops the previous layer that gathered on the sheltered side, thus allowing all the penguins to spend time in the warm interior, and at long last finding themselves back on the windward edge. This activity may shift the huddle as much as 200 metres downwind during a 48-hour blizzard.

A wise purpose

The four-foot high Emperor penguin and his egg survive the conditions of the polar winter on account of God instilling in them the extraordinary huddling instinct. What would happen to a penguin if he separated himself from the group during a 48-hour blizzard accompanied by 200 km/hr winds and a wind chill temperature of -60ºC? Alone the penguin would certainly run the risk of dying along with its defenceless egg. This is why the Emperor male never separates himself from the colony while caring for the egg. Both his and his egg’s survival depend on him remaining in close proximity to the colony. When prolonged and brutally cold winds blow, he is able to quickly join the huddle.

By analogy, there exists an intense spiritually cold and unforgiving landscape outside God’s Church. Our spiritual survival depends on our close proximity to God, His Truth and His Church. Can we weather it alone for long, or even a short time? Can we realistically remain separated from God’s Church and survive? Surely the answer would be a ‘no’. As Proverbs 18:1 says, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (NKJ). God never intended His spiritually begotten children to live a spiritually isolated life. In great wisdom and love God raised up His Church for the edification and protection of His children. Isolating ourselves seriously diminishes our chances for survival in a spiritually void world.

Assembling of ourselves

Understanding our human need, God created the Sabbath. When we assemble on the Sabbath we honor God who made the Sabbath day Holy, and commanded us to gather together in the places He has chosen throughout His Church. During the Sabbath we have the opportunity to stir up Godly love and good works toward one another. We are able to exhort and encourage each other to please God and walk in His ways, as Hebrews says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25 KJV). Through fellowship, and the hearing of God’s Word preached each Sabbath, we maintain our spiritual zeal within us by the Holy Spirit.

Christ’s call to be HOT – not lukewarm

Not one penguin remains at the outer edges of the huddle permanently. In order to protect himself from the cold, and incubate his egg properly, each male penguin instinctively knows his need to work with the group and spend time within the hot interior. Lingering on the fringes compromises survival because he will lose body fat quicker and the egg will not get the needed warmth to develop. Once a penguin is on the windward edge of the huddle he shuffles down one side of the group and allows the penguins following him to wrap around him at the lee, thus benefiting from the energy-conserving heat radiating from the interior.

The key message to the Laodicean Church in Revelation 3 is precisely the importance of seeking, becoming and remaining spiritually hot. Remaining spiritually hot and surviving today’s austere secular environment greatly increases when we actively choose to remain in the inner parts of God’s Church. The Emperor penguin instinctively avoids lingering on the lukewarm fringes. Is there not a good lesson here?

Antarctic storms trigger the survival instinct to huddle for each of the 35 known colonies along the coast of the continent. During a huddle episode the Emperor penguins appear to behave as one.

Likewise we are in the middle of a pervasive, spiritually wicked storm, and we need to be one with God. We cannot go it alone. Keep in the huddle of the Church for warmth and safety.

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