One day, one of the mahout and I went on a longer-than-usual hike together, which completely exhausted the smallest elephant in our camp who had to take six steps for every massive stride her mother and her mother’s friend took. She plopped down in a clearing and slept, while the two females, hovered nearby.
She was completely content while we two humans ate our sticky rice and chicken off to the side.
I watched her lay there the same way I watch Kai, my black Lab, lay on the floor of my office or home. Both had no hyper-vigilance. Both lay down while others lumber around them, stepping with big feet which come down onto the ground quite close to the sleeper’s arms and legs (and in her case, trunk.)
Like this little elephant, Kai sleeps a lot. Kai plops down and lays there while I step all around him trying to get done what needs to get done. My shoe may land by his nose, or by his little paw-wrist and he never flinches, never moves. He simply seems to know that I would never hurt him by stepping on him. He knows that I love and cherish him such that he will let me move all around him and never carelessly step on fragile parts which protrude. And when I have a party, he does that with my friends. He has learned that he is safe.
It is harder for we humans. People can be cruel and we do not often feel safe. The nightly news and some of what happens to us in families – even church families – can cause us great harm. Egos enflame and people get hurt. Bombs go off in cities, gunmen go off in schools and nightclubs. People drive drunk.
When I read our scriptures I see the reality there too that people will be cruel. But I also see that God is always faithful, never cruel. Sure, the God of the Hebrew Bible can get crochety, but there seems to be a shift with Jesus. It’s like Jesus upsets the God-human apple-cart by absorbing the tensions.
I would like to think I am safe because I believe in and worship God. I would like to believe I am safe because I worship Jesus and the Holy Wisdom Spirit. I would like to pay for safety with my pledge. I would like to think I am safe because I am a good, kind person. But I am not safe and I never will be. Sometimes God cures us and sometimes God just heals us. Sometimes bad things happen to very good people. It’s the way of life.
But I want to live my life like Kai and this baby elephant do. I want to lay down and rest and believe that God, who wanders all around us, all the time, will not step on us, will not harm us. And is present. Always present. Careful as God steps around our long legs and trunks, never crushing one.
Hunters will come. Hunters will kill. But I believe – and I experience – that God, who wanders around us in steps unseen, keeps vigil for us. When we are hurt. When we are betrayed by even our closest friends. When life gets so hard that we need to hiold a railing to stay on our feet from fears.
I have never looked at a human and thought “Wow, he or she seems like how I imagine God.” That works with Humans who look like I imagine Jesus. It even works with humans who seem to me a lot like the Holy Spirit. But God-as-old-bearded-white-man has never crossed my mind.
Whereas God-as elephant has.