I’ve always been more of a people person than an animal person. I didn’t grow up with dreams of being a veterinarian and I don’t give money to animal organizations. Although I grew up with pets and loved them dearly, I was always drawn more to babies. But now that I don’t have babies, I’m amazed at how drawn I am to animals.
Perhaps because both infants and animals are entirely dependent on their care givers and because we don’t necessarily understand babble or meow, I’ve begun to see a correlation between animals and small children. No, I’m not saying that pets and kids are the same or that animals are close to being human. But I do feel both animals and children have profound things to teach us about love.
Rumi and Hafiz came to me about five years ago when they were six years old. They were so terrified of their new environment that they hid in the closet for two days and only came out at night when I was asleep (although Hafiz tried walking on my head to wake me up – scaring the *&^!% out of both of us). But like family members or lovers, I’ve noticed that time increases our intimacy. Over the years, they have become increasingly affectionate and deeply mournful whenever I’m absent. Even with great house sitters when I’m gone, I realize there is no substitute for me. They have bonded with me or as they say “imprinted” to me and they need and love me. Likewise, as the years pass, I need and love them more.
While they can’t speak our language, their eyes reveal a love so deep (beyond thanks that I feed them) I feel connected to the divine through them. Yes, we might be the creatures that Lord over them but what a wonderful transaction of companionship and love they offer. I think they have a lot more going on in their little fury heads than we realize…
And it is no coincidence that Rumi and Hafiz were named after Sufi poets who wrote about the beauty and mystery of God.
Ever since getting hit in the head by my surfboard, I’ve been a little more cautious before getting in the water and now make certain to mutter a prayer. “Please God, keep me and others safe while doing this. You know this is the way I like to connect with you so please keep me safe while doing so.”
Related, as I paddled out the other day, I thought of all the sea imagery in the Old Testament and Yahweh’s taming of the sea monster Leviathan. Upon encountering a particularly big wave and feeling its power, I thought, “Okay. I’m out here wrestling with Leviathan. This is indeed a dangerous form of worship.” But not a form I’m willing to give up.
Later another thought struck me. What is more dangerous? Worshiping at the Church of the Pacific where you can get pummeled and beat up by the ocean or worshiping in a community of others doing the best they can to live out the gospel? I’m not certain because sometimes I find trying to fit into a system just as challenging as dodging a wave breaking upon oneself. Being in community means the watery chaos will be stirred and there will be emotional seaweed and rocks to navigate around.
The church means to help the marginalized. Mission folks go to the ends of the earth to reach those who are hungry, in poverty, oppressed. But what of the lonely and hurting person in the pew next to one? Do we always recognize him or her? Or what of those a degree off the scale of the norm? Are we so conditioned by our own experience that we can’t imagine what it might be like to be in another’s shoes? Do the scales need to fall from our eyes still?
Church is indeed a dangerous form of worship. But not a form I’m willing to give up.
However, I’m grateful Yahweh can tame Leviathan.
Recently I posted on Face Book that I was in need of recess. And at the risk of sounding gauche, I might add that if I don’t surf sometime soon, I’m going to start feeling like a dog in heat. What is it that makes us feel that “pent up aching river” when slumped in front of a computer for too many hours and not feeling our own bodies in motion?
Today at the swimming facility, I couldn’t help but notice three toddlers jumping and prancing about the locker room. To my delight, they stared at themselves in the mirror, exercised their vocal chords and tumbled over one another like puppies. And I thought, “They’ve got it figured out. They live in a body joyfully and spontaneously. As Walt Whitman once wrote, “I sing the body electric.” Our souls were meant to vibrate through our very flesh.
The more I force my body to submit to unnatural rhythms of non-stop work thanks to electricity, cell phones, email, etc., the more it cries out at times in rebellion. Today has been one of those days. While I’m blessed to have a great degree of flexibility in my current schedule allowing me freedom from a cubicle eight hours a day, my spirit and flesh still cry out in frustration when not getting enough time to get outdoors; to rest; to be. To dance, to laugh, to play.
I think of babies as they sleep and how we notice their breath because it permeates all through their bellies, creating a gentle rise and fall of the stomach. As adults, most of us no longer breathe this way. Instead, our breath lives shallow in the chest most of the time. And for me, sometimes I realize that I’m actually holding my breath as I go about the day.
So I remind myself – I live in a body. And while the flesh isn’t everything and definitely not to be deified, it nonetheless is something. It’s the house in which I live; it’s the vessel of my life force. It channels my voice and is the conduit through which I experience the world and God.
As soon as I could write the alphabet, I remember my mom sitting me down at the kitchen table to write thank you letters to relatives for any Christmas or birthday gifts they gave me. It didn’t matter that all I could scribble at that age was “thank you” and my name and that it took me twenty-five minutes to get that much down on paper. It was important to her. She felt that if people took the time to shop and send a gift, I needed to express my appreciation and she modeled that for me.
I know we live in a hectic world where people are harried and over-scheduled but lately I’ve noticed a trend. People not only don’t have the time to write thank you notes, they often don’t say thank you anymore either. On two occasions recently, I’ve given gifts for individuals that didn’t even acknowledge my gifts. While I don’t know why this is the case, it kind of rubs me the wrong way.
Typically, I give people the benefit of the doubt on these things. But in our ever-increasing entitled world, I’ve noticed people expect more and more on a materialistic level. When I see this type of “demand” from certain individuals, I frankly stop giving. Why the other day, I saw on the news that an “A” student shot her mother because her mother wouldn’t buy her the car she wanted. Now, albeit that case is entitlement on crack and I’m sure there were many other factors involved – but you get my point. We live in a society where we come to expect things without realizing just how lucky we really are to have what we do.
Now I’m just as guilty. While I might diligently write thank you letters, there are times when I “demand” of my Maker without acknowledging a single thanks for what he has provided me. I bemoan what I don’t have without pause for the tremendous gifts he has bestowed. Now that is ingratitude, particularly when I have so much: friends, health, hobbies, food, clothing, shelter.
Part of Eve’s fall came from longing after the one thing she didn’t have. She wanted that damn shiny apple while failing to realize she was living in frick’n paradise. She was in Eden for goodness sake. She had it all – but it wasn’t enough. Oh, we are fallen creatures.
So may I pause and say, thank you. You have given me so much.