Photograph by Sergio Uda
The stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world around us are sometimes helpful, and sometimes harmful. It would be easy to look at events in the world today and make sense of it by saying “This world really is going to s#*t isn’t it!” It may seem a reasonable assessment but the more we repeat this story to ourselves the more it becomes the lens through which we look out at the world around us – and the harder it becomes to perceive other realities. If the “going ti s*#t” story isn’t balanced by other more purposeful narratives then the feeling of overwhelm can turn us passive and cause us to retreat into the lonely safety of our respective caves.
To balance our perceptions and give us the confidence to evolve and engage we need other lenses. We need them if we are to see any good and perceive any reason to feel more secure in an insecure world, or more hopeful in non-hopeful environments. One way we can do this is to recognize our angels…
When you hear the word “angel” what do you picture? A ten foot tall Nordic/Aryan looking warrio-dude with wings and a bright aura? In Biblical accounts, and in many personal testimonies, it would appear that there are times when that is how angels present themselves. I have no problem believing in that kind of heavenly being. (In fact I would say I have encountered them and are deeply grateful for them.) But if you haven’t seen one of those, don’t feel left out. Because sometimes our angels might look quite different.
In 2013 Sam Bloom was on holiday with her family when a freak accident left her with a spinal injury, paralyzed from the chest down. Sam’s life and the life of her family was turned upside-down and the journey ahead was difficult and demoralizing for Sam and her whole family.
Penguin and Sam – picture by Cameron Bloom
At the moment when Sam felt the most desolate something happened that took the family completely by surprise. One day their home was buffeted by strong winds which brought a helpless a magpie chick to the ground outside their home. Sam’s young son Noah found it and brought it inside. Being black and white and unable to fly, they called her Penguin and the little bird became part of their family.
In their living room Penguin learend to fly. She would play fetch with socks and sticks, and would cuddle up on their beds. In short she brought laughter back to the Bloom family home. Penguin was so much fun that she soon had her own Instagram account with thousands of followers!
Penguin – picture by Cameron Bloom
Talking and playing with Penguin, and bringing the little chick up into flying full health renewed Sam’s sense of confidence and brought her a measure of deep healing. Three years later Sam was selected for the Australian para-kayaking team. Penguin’s work was done. And she flew away.
Penguin came when she was most needed, and disappeared when she was no longer needed. Perhaps, sometimes animals are our angels.
Just this year in Queensland a three year old girl called Aurora got lost in bush-land near her family’s rural property. She spent a long, cold night out in the bush. Aurora survived, safe and warm, because Max – a nearly deaf and nearly blind cattle dog – found the little girl and snuggled with her all night to keep her safe and warm – and then helped searchers to find the little girl the next morning.
I reckon that Aurora’s family would look on Max as their family’s angel. I know that Sam’s family look upon Penguin as their angel – a helper, sent to their family for the exact time and season that she was needed.
In the Bible the word “angel” doesn’t not always denote a particular kind of heavenly being. The word can simply mean an “agent” or a “sent-one.” And there are moments when the sent-one may be an animal.
I immediately think of two such moments in the stories of the Jewish prophets which illustrate this. At one point in his journey the prophet Elijah finds himself starving to death in the desert. And indeed the prophet would have starved except for a raven whom God sent to save Elijah’s life by bringing him a steady supply of fresh meat!
Conversely, in the story of the prophet Jonah we find the reluctant prophet sleeping on the job, shaded by a little bush. But it was important that Jonah wake up and press on with his journey. So, the narrator tells us, “The Lord appointed a worm to eat the bush and make it wither!”
If the sent-one can be a raven or even a worm, then I think I am in a good tradition if I celebrate Penguin, or Max – or my beautiful cat Raoul as an angel who helped sustain me through some hard yards in my own journey.
Sometimes people speak of “divine appointments.” Generally people use that term to describe serendipitous encounters with other people. However the stories of Jonah and the worm, Elijah and the raven, Sam and the magpie, and Aurora and the cattle dog, remind us that our “divine appointment” just might be an encounter with an animal!
If God can “appoint” even a worm, what else is possible?! Certainly it isn’t hard to find examples of lives saved in all kinds of ways by the agency of animals – be it dramatically in an emergency rescue, or undramatically through the love and companionship of a pet or a visiting animal-friend.
What if an animal encounter might communicate a more hopeful story to you? A story that says that someone is looking out for you in the midst of everything else that is going on – in the world – and in your world.
Recently I took a walk in the bush to clear my head after a run of demanding days. The gift of a peaceful walk in the Yarra Ranges of Victoria was a refreshing and welcome pause. I always feel at home in the forest but on this day the forest reminded more than ever that God is conscious of me and my journey.
My attention was first piqued when a cute little echidna padded gently right up to my foot and stopped to look up at me for what felt like a few minutes before he softly continued on his monotreme journey. Next a huge monitor lizard met me on the path. The lizard quickly surveyed me and then graced me by running in the other direction! Then, one after the other, two swamp wallabies hopped up to the path, just to stand and exchange long looks from unusually close quarters.
By the end of my walk I truly felt I was surrounded by a great company of crreatures, all enjoying the quiet fellowship of the forest. These beautiful animals didn’t save my life or help searchers find me. They just made me feel met-with on my journey – a tangible reminder of the love of God. Their quiet consciousness of me seemed to reiterate the very consciousness of God.
If you can accept that your “sent-ones” may at times be heavenly beings, sometimes people and other times animals, those new lenses create a quite different focus and a wonderful picture begins to emerge.
So let me recommend an exercise. Try those lenses on and then look and see what divine appointments are coming your way! Do that and your feeling about the universe may begin to change. And you may begin to see a few more signs of love, a few more reasons to believe that in the universe there is love and joy and encouragement for you, to keep you – even in the s#*tty times – blessed, loved and moving forward.
(PS You can read the rest of Penguin’s story here)