I finally took my daughter to the zoo today. Actually, more to the point, I finally took myself to the zoo. I've lived in Massachusetts almost 20 years, but I've never been to a zoo here. Having grown up outside of Washington, DC, I was somewhat spoiled when it came to zoos and I confess I've been somewhat snooty when it comes to exploring new ones.
But what a treat! A walk through the woods on a beautiful and unseasonably warm autumn day, punctuated by sightings of magnificent wild animals…a bald eagle, two black bears, a couple of handsome coyote, a solitary basking mountain lion, an extraordinary jaguar, a flock of bathing flamingos, a few lazy spider monkeys, a playful otter, a 6-month old reindeer named Little Willow, a well-camouflaged snow leopard, and a pair of sleepy Mexican grey wolves lolling about on a rocky knoll.
It took us a little while to spot the wolves. They were about as far away from the people's path as they could get, lying almost motionless in the shade. Once we had found them, we sat for a bit outside of their habitat, looking up at them as they occasionally glanced down at us, undisturbed. It was a good time and place to have a snack, so we shared some animal crackers and apple juice, there in the woods, just a single fence and 20 yards or so between us and them. For a short, but blessed time we – all four of us – just sat still.
In his book, "A Hidden Wholeness", Quaker educator and author Parker Palmer describes the soul this way:
"The soul is like a wild animal…tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently at the base of a tree...the wild creature we seek might put in an appearance. We may see it only briefly and only out of the corner of an eye – but the sight is a gift we will always treasure as an end in itself" (58-59).
He goes on to say that most of the time we go crashing through the woods together with those with whom we are in community, even in a church community! And this may be especially true, I think it is fair to say, during the busy post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas rush of the holiday season into which we are about to enter. It is all too easy to get lost in that busy-ness – to lose sight of ourselves and of what matters most to us – to lose our peace of mind and our sense of purpose.
And so, my holiday wish for you is that you will take or make the time to sit as quietly and as patiently as you can, as often as you can, to catch a glimpse of your own tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient…and shy… soul. There may be no greater gift that we can each give to ourselves – and our loved ones – than that precious time!
Peace to you and see you in church!