Dance of the Porcupines

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Collective nouns are one of the most delightful components of the English language.
A collective noun is a word that describes a group of something: a herd of elephants, a pack of wolves, a gaggle of geese, a choir of singers.  We hear those examples rather often.
Less common collectives can be a hoot: a clowder of cats, a bloat of hippos, a kindle of kittens, an ambush of tigers, a crash of rhinos.
Bird species have especially interesting collectives: a murder of crows, a harmony of nightingales, a conspiracy of ravens, an exaltation of larks, a peep of chickens, a squabble of seagulls, a paddling of ducks, an ostentation of peacocks, and a dropping of pigeons. 
And no, I did not make that last one up.
Sometimes collective nouns suggest certain character qualities: an obstinacy of buffalo, a romp of otters, a shrewdness of apes, a sneak of weasels, and a skulk of foxes.
There are some fascinating collective nouns for humans: a babble of barbers, a riot of comedians, a slither of gossip columnists, a pomposity of professors, and a soul-wrenching disillusionment of Purdue sports fans. 
OK, I made that last one up.
Is there a creature that has no collective noun?  That would be the North American Common Porcupine.  There’s no need to invent a word for a group of porcupines.  They waddle through life solo.
Porcupines are not cuddly.  Nor are they party animals.  When its privacy is threatened, a porcupine has two primary responses: run away and hide, or (as a last resort) get up close and personal with some of those famous quills.
A porcupine’s body is covered with approximately 30,000 miniature lances – barbs that expand and become more firmly embedded when they are thrust into the flesh of a perceived enemy.
I know what you’re thinking:  Porcupines surely aren’t always alone.  Otherwise, where would little porcupines come from? 
It’s hard to improve on John Ortberg’s riff on this in Everybody’s Normal Til You Get to Know Them.  He writes, “In the late autumn, a young porcupine’s thoughts turn to love.  But love turns out to be a risky business when you’re a porcupine.  Females are open to dinner and a movie only once a year; the window of opportunity closes quickly.  And a girl porcupine’s ‘no’ is the most widely respected turndown in all the animal kingdom.  Fear and anger make them dangerous little creatures to be around.”
Ortberg then describes the Porcupine’s Dilemma, which is really our dilemma as well:  How do you get close without getting hurt?
When people become angry, wounded, or fearful, we tend to act like porcupines.  We want to run away and hide.  Or we decide to strike back.  We may not have quills, but we can come up with at least 30,000 ways to diminish and disrespect other people with our words.
So how do porcupines ever experience love?
Naturalist David Costello writes: “Males and females may remain together for some days before mating.  They may touch paws and even walk on their hind feet in the so-called ‘dance of the porcupines.’”
It seems like a miracle, but it really does happen.  Porcupines decide to pull in their quills and learn how to dance.
We, as human porcupines, are called to do the same – even with that other porcupine reclining in your family room, living down the street, or stirring up strong feelings at work.
The apostle Paul makes this utterly practical: “Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.  Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging,’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it’” (Romans 12:14-19, The Message).
Who knows? 
With God’s help, we might yet become a Grace-Giving Gang of Disciples.