What I know of playfulness came from living in an elephant camp in Thailand. After a three hour time of testing, one of the elephants chose me. That elephant, which I was charged with tending, washing, exercising and feeding was the most playful being I have encountered on this planet so far. She was mischievous and yet always very kind and gentle with me. And I with her.
She got to know me over time. She knew when I woke up and would find me with her trunk under the hut’s mat walls . She knew when she saw or smelled a Burmese grape tree that she should wander over to it so that I could climb up from her forehead (where I sat for our long treks with my legs on each side of her face and my hands clutching her hair) to pick grapes from the high part of the tree where they were plentiful. And of course, she knew I would bring her some.
When I took her to the river to wash, she loved to spray me with water from her truck which always had the smell of a puppy’s breath – all sweet and hinting at heaven. And when I scrubbed her back she made the elephant equivalent of a purr.
I will admit that I find it hard to trust humans. I trust Kai and I trusted my elephant and my childhood dog, but humans seems to elude me at times. And I think I am not alone in this (though perhaps alone in admitting it.) The elephant with whom I developed a friendship while in the jungles of Northern Thailand during my sabbatical seemed to like me; and even to love me. She would reach out and place her trunk on my forehead and sigh which always made me cry a bit. She seemed to know that the genesis myths of our human and planetary creation had some truth in them and that, at the same time, all manner of thing shall be well.
And when I stared into her massive black eyes and saw my reflection, I began to learn (was she telling me somehow?) that the first step in trusting the world was trusting myself – liking myself.
Yesterday I taught a class on prayer at the Cathedral. As we spoke of church history – guilt and shame, history and manipulation, grief and hope, authenticity and Rule of Life; I realized as I taught, that fundamental to praying (speaking with God) was trusting God – and that fundamental to that was trusting that we are made good with a side of evil and not the other way round.
No book tells me that the world (including me) is pleasing to God. My travel companion in Thailand, however, did every time she picked me up with her trunk and tossed me onto her forehead so that I need not climb up. She loved me. I knew that the moment she choose me that first day. The challenge is to know that humans love me too. Knowing one is loved is the way The Kingdom of God becomes visible.