This weekend, two folks flew up to the central Bluegrass (and boy, were their arms tired!). They piled into a tiny car, and my sweet husband and I piled in with them. We were headed to Ohio: land of the Wright Brothers, title name of a slam-dunk double album by my fave-o-rite band, and One of the States that Shares a Great Lake.
We piled out of the tiny car and piled into a house that was overrun by enthusiastic young boys. In fact, it only takes two enthusiastic young boys to make a house feel overrun by youngsters. The tops of their heads smelled sweet. They giggled. They crashed. They cried.
They called me Ewisabef.
I love it when wee ones call me Ewisabef.
We all piled into cars and drove to the sprawling Cleveland Zoo, where I came face to face with just how happy animals make humans. My classic favorite is the tigers. A close second: the giraffes. A new favorite: the white poison frog that can kill a hundred people.
Why do humans forget how much we need animals to feel, well, at home? Even exotic creatures with startling eyes somehow make me feel - well, at home. More human. It's as if far-off, primal memories are stirred.
Or maybe it's the memories of childhood Bible storybook pages filled with illustrations of Adam naming animals, and animals piling into an ark and going on a journey. As children, we squeal with delight over these stories. As adults, we tell them to children - but rarely ourselves.
It's fascinating that C.S. Lewis describes his conversion taking place in the sidecar of his brother's motorcycle - after a trip to the zoo. He famously says that on the way there, he was not a Christian, and on the way back, he was a believer.
The Narnia creator wasn't crediting a zebra exhibit with his change of heart; his thought processes had been churning for a while. But I relish the scene: old Jack, hunkered in Warnie's sidecar, fresh from a trip to the zoo, coming to faith. The stories he spun roared with creatures, familiar and fantastic: foxes and fauns, wolves and witches. The zoo was just the welcome mat, the diving board, the launching pad. And Aslan ruled it all.
I'm no more fond of scaly fruit bats now than I was before the visit to the zoo; but I am richly aware of the vast universe in which God has placed us. Humans are distinct in creation; yet all the while, we are in creation. On this one tiny point, theists and atheists agree: that there is a flourishing abundance of life on this planet that prods joy and wonder out of us.
It is never good to be childish; it is always good to be childlike. I think the more childlike we are - allowing ourselves to enjoy a rhino's antics, or laughing at the bizarre appearance of a lumpy camel - the more we will understand God, and what Chesterton named God's mirth.