Sentinels Amongst Us

Who would have thought that the most fragile among us are sentinels? Like a watchman posted at the ancient city gate to warn of an impending attack: bees, bats, swallows, aquatic creatures, and canaries are harbingers of disaster as well. Being more susceptible to toxins, the meme, ‘Canary in the coal mine,” refers to the practice adopted in the late 19th century. Used as sentinels to warn against dangerous contaminants, coal miners brought canaries deep into the mine shafts with them.

Like the canaries in the coal mines who perished, many species have succumbed these past decades. Be it the air we breathe, the water we drink, escalating temperatures, flooding, and loss of arable soil coupled with diminished forested lands, the number of creatures on our planet is plummeting. However, they are no longer the only ones at risk. Humans across the globe: the homeless, the impoverished, people of color, and those who labor in crippling heat, such as firefighters and first responders, have joined their ranks.  

Before the rest of us know something is amiss, others continue serving as sentinels.   These prophets and prognosticators warn the rest of us of current and impending danger despite the pushback from those who insist on business as usual. On the streets and byways, they are human harbingers attuned to impending destruction – be it to our democracy, the ever-widening gulf between the haves and have-nots, and the assault upon the planet that sustains us. Like the canary in the coal mine, to ignore them is to do so at our peril.  

Prayer: Divine Maker, thank you for those who serve as vanguards and prophets. Summon us to awaken to your voice and presence, as evidenced in the most fragile and attuned amongst us. We ask this in all the holy names of God. Amen.

[1] This blog is dedicated to a sentinel who has given her life to the service of the earth, humankind, and institutions that seek the common good.    A prophet and prognosticator, she is the canary in the coal mine for the rest of us.   

[2] “US honeybees suffer second deadliest season on record,” The Guardian, June 23, 2023.



Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

8 thoughts on “Sentinels Amongst Us”

  1. Thanks, Jessica, for being a sentinel for all of us. We cannot be reminded often enough of the peril that is stalking our beautiful earth.

    1. Thanks, Susan. Yes, sadly we cannot be reminded enough of the peril that is (as you rightly state) stalking our earth…yet thankful we can share this lament together.

  2. Yes, thank you, Jessica for being a sentinel, for offering that service with such love.

  3. Jess, I felt much gratitude for the “sentinels” that I’ve taken for granted – and I especially loved your prayer where it referenced “gods.” You have a beautiful gift of inclusivity. I love you!

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