a nose knows


The elephant I lived with for a few weeks in the mountains of Thailand while on sabbatical liked to look at me.  The other mahout made fun of me and called me a Thai name which meant something like “gazer” though I have a sneaking suspicion that it was a less acceptable word.  I loved them and they loved me for those many weeks in that little village of the eight of us humans and the eight of the elephants.  This one was mine.  She seemed to like me and would come find me in the mornings by snaking her trunk under my wall-matting to wake me with hot breath on my face.  I remember that it always smelled of heaven, or what I think heaven smells like.
Like Kai, she liked to rub her trunk tip on my forehead back and forth.  Back and forth.  It was as if she knew something would happen to that head one day.  Since the accident Kai has never gone to bed without licking my scalp.  Not once.

I am wondering about “church” and I am wondering about “non church” – considering if either exists.  I think not.  Church is just a construct we make so that we feel pious.  Which is fine.  With the notable exceptions of the crusades, the inquisition and the Nazi state church, pious people do little harm and some good.

My elephant I called Sara because the Thai name was unpronounceable  in that summer heat.  She and I would walk and she would graze, then mid day we would all bring our elephants to the river for a good wash and some water fights.  The elephants had better technology and always won.

The Feast of Saint Francis is soon upon us.  Sara seems always very close to me this time of year.  I never met the baby she bore weeks after I left Thailand.  But I suspect she named it Kai since we talked of him often.

Unlike Kai, she loved having her picture taken.

What if heaven is full of all kinds of life – not just hairless bipeds like us?  And what if there, we are not in charge?  And what if we are not really in charge here either?

Nearer to the earth’s heart,
Deeper within its silence:
Animals know this world
In a way we never will.

We who are ever
Distanced and distracted
By the parade of bright
Windows thought opens:
Their seamless presence
Is not fractured thus.

Stranded between time
Gone and time emerging,
We manage seldom
To be where we are:
Whereas they are always
Looking out from
The here and now.

May we learn to return
And rest in the beauty
Of animal being,
Learn to lean low,
Leave our locked minds,
And with freed senses
Feel the earth
Breathing with us.

May we enter
Into lightness of spirit,
And slip frequently into
The feel of the wild.

Let the clear silence
Of our animal being
Cleanse our hearts
Of corrosive words.

May we learn to walk
Upon the earth
With all their confidence
And clear-eyed stillness
So that our minds
Might be baptized
In the name of the wind
And light and the rain.

~ John O’Donohue
from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings

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