I learnt something about the Portuguese man o’war the other day (called so, because of their resemblance to a Portuguese war vessel of the 18th century). These things are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. Their tentacles bear a venom that can be quite painful and cause a severe dermatitis; sometimes, though, the stings can be fatal, causing beaches to be shut down if these bad ‘uns are located in the vicinity.
What I discovered (thankfully not by contacting any directly—highly unlikely, seeing that my beach philosophy is to keep the sand off my feet, the water off my clothes, and the sun off my skin) was that the Physalia physalis or the Physalia utriculus, the Atlantic or Indo-Pacific varieties, respectively, is not a single organism but four different specialized animals—zooids or polyps. “It” is not an “it”—“it” is a “they,” a siphonophore, an animal made up of a colony of organisms working together in specialized fashion. There is a pneumatophore, that is a combo sail + bladder of air: this makes the P m o’w float and drift. There is a dactylozooid polyp, that produces long (30–60 feet) tentacles: these bear venom-filled stings that can kill squids and fish and then drag the prey into the range of the next kind of polyp. These are the gastrozooid polyps, that surround and digest those captives with enzymes. Finally there are gonozooid polyps, responsible for reproduction (complicated sexual and asexual processes that generate these specialized constituents).
And this quartet is attached to each other and are so integrated in their workings that they cannot survive independently. They are functionally and effectively one body, one being, one beast. For the lifetime of the siphonophore, these critters hang together, floating each other, hunting for each other, feeding each other, and reproducing each other.
I was struck by this lesson that nature teaches us, even as I listen to my students preach through Ephesians.
There is unity in the body of Christ …
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, exhort you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;
one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;
one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who [is] over all and through all and in all.
And then there is diversity in the body of Christ …
And it was He who gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists,
and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for work of ministry,
for building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to
… the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
… being truthful in love, we are to grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ,
from whom the whole body, co-fitted and conjoined through every supporting connection
according to the working in measure of each individual part,
causes the growth of the body for building itself in love.
Unity is not uniformity! Individuals in the united body of Christ are unique, and their various gifts work in concert to build the body in love, to resemble the Head, Jesus Christ. So the Head gives, leaders equip, saints minister, and body is built!
… procurando diligentemente guardar a unidade do Espírito!