Friday, August 27, 2010

Learning from the animals...

"Is that a rock?" A first time Boundary Waters visitor pointed her paddle. "Or a moose?"
"A rock..." I squinted. "No it's moving. A moose!" We paddled closer as the large female buried her head in the lake, bringing up a mouthful of weeds. She looked at us and put her head under water again.
"Listen!" another paddler whispered. "There's another..." We listened to twigs breaking in the woods nearby. "Must be her little one," I said. "We should stay back; mother moose are very protective." For half an hour we watched the cow making a fine feast of the water plants, occasionally glancing at us. Several times she looked toward the woods where we could still hear her baby. Our canoe slowly drifted toward the trees where we could hear the little one. Suddenly the mother moose looked at us with alarm and clambered out the water into the woods.

That's when we heard the sound. It was a call like no other I'd ever heard--a cross between a moo, a trumpet and a groan. Her appeal to her little one carried all the longing and love in a mother's heart. Her desire--no, her desperation--to protect her baby echoed over the lake and shook us. We looked at each other as she called again, louder, more insistent: "where are you?"
As the mother moose called again, we heard twigs snapping from her baby moving toward her. We saw their profiled noses touch before they headed away from the lake, deeper into the woods.
That mama moose's cry resonated in me as I slept in my tent that night. Even now I can hear it. Longing, love, desire to protect--why did her voice haunt me?
And then I realized: that moose was voicing the longing that echoes through the universe. Her love is the warp on which our lives are woven. The cry, "Where are you my love?" Is the sound we desire and fear, year in, year out. Sometimes we try to dull our hearing with busy-ness, noise, consumerism. Or we're tempted by substitutes--movies make big bucks offering us cheap "happy ending" versions of love; glossy magazines promise us that this make up, that diet, this exercise program--will somehow make us worthy of that kind of love. But of course neither the "happily ever after version"offered by the movies nor all the make-overs in the world can prepare us for the intensity and strength of the love we heard in that moose's cry.
That cry is the call of the divine--"Where are you? I love you." We may "hear" it in many different places--the laughter of a grandchild, a sense of being "held" when life is tough, an encounter with a work of art, voices joined in songs of praise, the loving lean of a great dog, an amazing sunrise, or the joy of serving someone who is helpless.
The time I heard that call most clearly was in a pre-surgical ICU room. I was with a man and his wife who had been hurt by relgion and not gone to church for forty years. After we talked I asked If I could pray with them. He said, "How could I, when I've rejected God all these years? Just because I might die..." As we prayed, the sense of God's presence in that room was palpable: "Where are you? I love you," like the moose call. All three of us wept.
The cry we heard on Deer Lake is the voice of God. What I heard was an epiphany, a miracle, a heart to heart encounter. In all my expreince, it is this kind of connection that may change and touch us. After all Christian faith is not about God sending a proposition, a list of commands, or even a book our way; it is about an encounter with a person. No one I've ever know was converted through arguments. But I know many people who would say they've heard--somehow, somewhere--that voice of love, and that it still rings throught their lives.