Joyful Abandon – by Marilyn Zehr
Theological Reflection – Sunday, October 20
Marilyn Zehr is lead pastor at Toronto United Mennonite Church.
The Squirrels have been looking at me lately. In the past week, three of them have approached me cautiously or gazed at me curiously rather than scamper away. I returned their curious gaze with the question, “What do you want my friend?” “Do you expect a nut from me to add to your winter stash?” And they just cocked their heads at me and I just cocked my head at them until we both had better things to do. This experience in triplicate seemed odd to me and I recalled a friend’s words that when you encounter an animal behaving oddly, it might be a message. Although we may not admit it aloud, I think many of us experience birds, animals and even trees and stones as messengers. Our aboriginal community takes very seriously the role of animal totems. Animal messengers are not absent from our biblical literature either (recall Balaam’s ass, Noah’s dove, Elijah’s raven, the foal of a donkey that carries Jesus). They and we are part of God’s good creation. What message did the squirrels have for me on these beautiful autumn days? As a totem, squirrels are known for their playfulness and their joy in socializing. They are also active gatherers but this is always balanced by play. “Take care of what you must,” they say, “but don’t forget to lighten your load and enjoy a race around a tree – preferably with a friend.”
You might respond as I initially did, “but my work as a pastor (fill in your own work label) is such serious business.” The work of bringing justice, compassion and peace to the world (core of the Kairos mission) is serious business. In light of the urgent needs of our planet and the people who hope she will sustain them for generations to come, there has never been a more urgent time. But this squirrel encounter has turned my thoughts towards the playfulness of animals and children and with that my thoughts turned towards the image of the peaceable kingdom in Isaiah 11.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of YHWH
as the waters cover the sea.
Wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions and a little child shall lead them. Cows and bears, lions and oxen and the children will play near the adder’s den. When the earth is full of the knowledge of YHWH and when the earth is full of God’s shalom, deep joy and playfulness will abound especially among unexpected playfellows. In my view many artistic renderings of this scene are a little too solemn. I expect real shalom with all these animals and children together will be a bit more raucous if not slightly chaotic. Are we not being called upon to live into that shalom now? If so we might have to lighten up a bit. If the squirrels and the children are leading the way, we may even find ourselves laughing out loud sometimes. I think this is what the squirrel messenger is trying to tell me. Lighten the load, follow the children, enjoy God’s good earth and participate already in the shalom that God longs to bring about. If that means racing through fallen leaves and around trees in the autumn sunshine for the fun of it – don’t let anyone stop you. In that moment of joyful abandon, you are participating in the Shalom of God and the even the squirrels may smile (or join you).