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Don’t be a Mantis Shrimp

• Emily Morrison

John was invited to enter a door to see into the throne room of God. This was not a physical seeing. It was a spiritual experience, where he saw into another dimension of reality. What does it mean to see into this other world, to experience God in this distinctly different way? This sermon, by Emily Morrison, encourages us to embrace the gift of seeing God in this radically different way.

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In this sermon, Emily Morrison speaks about what it means to go through the door John entered in the vision found in Revelation 4. She explores how we see what’s going on in the dimension of the Spirit so that we might encounter God in a different way, a way that calls for spiritual seeing. She uses C.S. Lewis’ image of shadowlands, which describes how the physical world is less real than the spiritual world. We read about this throughout the Scriptures, Hebrews 8:5 and 10:1 are examples. We live in shadowlands, a pale imitation of reality.

If we are accustomed to seeing shadows, we need someone to show us what is really real. Hence, Jesus. We need Jesus to show us beyond the shadows to reality. It’s as if we live in a two-dimensional world and someone from a three-dimensional world comes to show us reality from a different perspective. What we might see as a flat plane might actually be a pyramid. Jesus comes to say, “See it with different eyes and you will discover that there’s more than you thought.” Emily shares about a book entitled Flatland by Edwin Abbot to illustrate this point.

Emily also illustrates how we can see this other reality, this spiritual dimension, by explaining how animals actually have eyes to see ultraviolet light, whereas humans cannot see it. We have what scientists call “umwelt,” which refers to the kind of world that a being experiences that is shaped by its differing ways of perceiving the world. The world is the same, but different organisms see it in different ways. For instance, birds’ eyes have four cones, as opposed to the three that humans have. This opens up a completely new dimension of color that humans cannot perceive.

When John goes through that door into God’s throne room in Revelation 4, he is seeing the whole spectrum of reality that most do not see. Here in this throne room, all creatures can see God clearly. And because they can see so clearly, worship pours out of them. That’s the natural response to seeing God as he is.

A mantis shrimp has twelve cones, and one would assume that members of this species could see the world in wildly different ways. However, their vision actually collapses the differing colors of the spectrum to only twelve basic colors. These mantis shrimp have the capacity to see something unbelievable, but they don’t. They go the opposite direction and shrink their color world down to the blandest box of crayons. Too many times, we limit what we see, collapsing our vision to the most basic, common elements. We don’t allow ourselves to see what God is doing within the spiritual dimension.

We are challenged not to be a mantis shrimp. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:18: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” When we open ourselves up to this possibility, the Spirit can invite us out of the shadowlands and through the door where we can see someone who looks like jasper and ruby.

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Topics: Imagination, Presence of God

Sermon Series: Good Heavens!

Downloads & Resources

Audio File
Study guide
Group Study Guide
The MuseCast: May 14

Focus Scripture:

  • Revelation 4:1

    After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.”

For Further Reading:

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis
An Immense World by Ed Yong

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4 thoughts on “Don’t be a Mantis Shrimp

  1. Jerry says:

    Thanks, Emily excellent!

    I found ultraviolet light, “umwelt,” and mantis shrimp interesting.

    Mantis shrimp appear to be over-dialed on punching stuff, delivering an explosive 60-mile-per-hour punch compared to a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun, using a system of biological springs, latches, and levers to power their fast punches enabling them to strike much more swiftly than would be possible with muscle power alone.

    You might go so far as to say the fragmented vision of shrimp is a psychosomatic symptom of the fragmentation of their spiritual being.

    Emily as you addressed we too have become, like mantis shrimp, the most physically, more stuff, [left] hemisphere connected and yet spiritually unseen dimension [right] hemisphere isolated people who have ever walked the planet.

    The good news:

    “The Spirit can invite us out of the shadowlands” I liked that Emily, thanks again!

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks, Jerry! And yeah, love that about the punching power of those little guys— truly remarkable creatures!

  2. Peter says:


    The way you pull creative sources into a sermon is SOOOO fun to listen to and think on!
    Creation shouts the name of Jesus. Your preaching helps us see that in unique and meaningful ways! Thank you! It really matters!!

    1. Emily says:

      Thanks, Peter!
      Creation does indeed shout — the mountains and hills sing, the trees clap their hands, right!?

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