My morning walk is a precious time of peace, quiet, and the pursuit of relationship with the deer, squirrels, and birds living in the woods along the creek. I learned a lot about bringing a peaceful spirit to animals from Saint Francis, but more recently, by reading about the tame animals of the Galapagos.
Conflict is largely a human characteristic. Animal rivalry is almost exclusively about need, not identity. Annie Dillard’s book, “Teaching a Stone to Talk”, includes an essay about her visits to the Galapagos islands, where all critters, whether they fly, crawl, swim or slither, are unafraid of humans.
Snuggling With a Bull Sea Lion
For example, Annie remembers a young bull sea lion (of no prior acquaintance) slipping from sea to sand, hauling himself over to the boulder she occupied with the ship’s naturalist. After flinging himself onto the rock beside her, Annie whispers,
“Soames,” I said–very quietly, “he’s here because we’re here, isn’t he?” The naturalist nodded. I felt water-drop on my elbow behind me, then the fragile scape of whiskers, and finally the wet warmth and weight of a muzzle, as the creature settled to sleep on my arm. I was catching on to sea lions. –Annie Dillard, Teaching A Stone to Talk
Conflict Is Normal But Not Inevitable
God instilled the fear of man in animals when they disembarked from Noah’s temporary home (Genesis 9). So, how did the animals of the Galapagos evolve beyond normal fear?
I don’t have the answer, but that it is so, suggests the possibility that conflict is not inevitable.
When do little children become combative and territorial?
Are we less than the animals? Can’t we rise above our worst natures by emulating Annie’s napping sea lion?
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Not only can we rise above our worst natures, but the Lord Jesus Christ asks us to do just that. Universal goodwill cannot be produced from human nature and resolve alone, but it is both possible and promised to New Creations in Christ, transformed in spirit and empowered by God Himself.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”–Matthew 5:9
The animals of the Galapagos are only tame because they live in peace with humans. Imagine if each of us offered peace to every person and creature we encountered? How would the world change?
Is that what Eden was like before the Fall?
Are We Guilty of Dis-Peace?
I’ve discovered that understanding and applying the Beatitudes is often easier when we consider the opposite of Christ’s words. In the case of peace, what do we know about those who will not be called children of God?
They are guilty of creating dis-peace.
Peacemakers never purpose to wrest freedom or belongings from others. They do not tear down. They do not curse, but bless.
Yearning for Eden
Annie Dillard’s observation about the Galapagos critters makes me long for Eden, the coming new Earth where men and animals will be bonded once again, not competitors for resources or servants to our egos.
“The animals are tame. They have not been persecuted, and show no fear of man. You pass among them as though you were wind, spindrift, sunlight, leaves.
Inhabitants of uncrowded colonies tend to offer the stranger famously warm hospitality—and such are the Galapagos sea lions. Theirs is the greeting the first creatures must have given Adam—a hero’s welcome, a universal and undeserved huzzah. Go [to the Galapagos] and be greeted by sea lions.”
Harmless as a Blue-Footed Booby
I doubt I’ll ever get to the Galapagos, but one day I will arrive in an eternity of peace and genuine greeting with those who have gone before me, two-legged and four.
In the meantime, I strive to obey Jesus’ command to be “as wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove.” In the Galapagos, that might be “as a blue-footed booby.”
Christians are not exempt from conflict and may one day be unjustly condemned for it. But, may we never be guilty of creating conflict.
My brief acquaintance with Annie Dillard
When I wrote “Amazing Grays, Amazing Grace”, I didn’t know beans about authorship. The Lord said I was writing a book and I listened. I figured, this was His project, so what did I have to lose? Ah, naivite.
Each short chapter is introduced with a quotation and scripture, one of which is Annie Dillard’s. I didn’t know any better, so I tracked her down to ask permission to quote one sentence.
If you’re a writer, or are frequently quoted, you already know that you don’t need permission to quote one sentence with attribution. Still, I’m a tenacious researcher and found a way to connect.
The more I learn about Annie Dillard, the more amazed I am that she (eventually) sent a terse handwritten reply. Ms. Dillard gave permission to quote but also chastised me for my ignorance.
I’m a fan. 🙂
To appreciate how special that reply was, these are the first words on her website, AnnieDillard.com :
“I can no longer travel, can’t meet with strangers, can’t sign books but will sign labels with SASE, can’t write by request, and can’t answer letters. I’ve got to read and concentrate. Why? Beats me.”
Here’s a bit more from Annie’s Galapagos essay:
The Blue-Footed Booby
“Here are nesting blue-footed boobies, real birds with real feathers, whose legs and feet are nevertheless patently fake, manufactured by Mattel. The tortoises are as big as stoves. The enormous land iguanas at your feet change color in the sunlight, from gold to blotchy red as you watch.”
Related post: Do Animals Go to Heaven?
Another related post: Simple Faith–The First Principle
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