The elephant with whom I lived in Thailand taught me more than any living sentient being on the planet. I have liked most of my teachers and tried to love them all, but this one changed me more than the rest combined. She was kindness enfleshed and in that way, an icon to Jesus. She radiated the kindness with which God brooded over creation in the mythology of our creation stories. Her deep brown eyes seemed to be windows into an eternity which I had never really believed existed prior to our friendship.
In the mornings she woke me with her deep purring, weaving her trunk under the straw window mats with the gentleness of a cat-burglar reaching past an alarm system to touch the Hope Diamond. She had puppy-breath, sweet and gentle. And she genuinely seemed willing to be playful. She would wander me up to burmese grape trees so that I could, standing on her head (on which I usually sat when not eating,) reach the bunches of sweet fruit. But then, as in this image, she would reach back seeking her tithe – which, in the bounty of the moment, always seemed fair. I was my best self on her.
She was pregnant (they carry a baby in their womb for two years, can you imagine?!) and so a rope from her ankle to her neck helped me scale her quickly when I felt nervous in the mountain jungles in which we spent our days wandering and thinking and asking questions of the God who created us. Well, I asked. She seems to know everything.
What I remember about her the most was how safe I felt with her. She seemed always to be watching, noticing what I enjoyed. When I was tired, she tossed me up with her trunk, bypassing the rope climb. When I was sad, she seemed to reach back her trunk and blow sweet air onto my face almost as if a kiss were blown. And at night, when the jungle became loud at 4:00 am with the cacophony of living things announcing that God had agreed to another day, she purred as if to remind me that she was just outside the hut.
She taught me that God, in God’s gentle, powerful way, is always just outside my view. I wish I could see Him. Scripture says I would not necessarily die were I to. But God’s vulnerability keeps Him shy, which I understand rather better than I would like.
Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. With that great trunk, she taught me that the Holy Spirit is breathed in many ways.