Barbara Kingsolver’s book “Small Wonder” opens with an amazing, true story about a missing child in the forest in Iran. The parents frantically search for 3 days to find their 16 month old baby. Without a single clue to guide them, and close to giving up hope, some members of the search party hear a cry from inside a cave 6 miles from where the baby had gone missing. Deep in the belly of the cave they find the baby nestled in the lap of a bear. You would have expected the bear to tear the baby to pieces. On the contrary, after rescuing the baby, they find him in perfect health and with signs that the bear has actually been nursing him. The bear that had likely lost its own cubs took the child as if it’s own, nursed and protected him from harm.
It’s an incredible story. There are three lessons that I take from this story that seem relevant at this time.
1. Miracles happen
Miracles happen. When it seems like all hope is gone, and when the cave of despair seems darkest, you find surprising hope sitting on the lap of a bear. We’ve seen it in the incredible stories coming out of Japan, with the recovery of people missing for days in seemingly impossible situations. We see it in the seasons. Even now we see it in the new buds of spring. When it seems like you can’t bear another cold, grey day of winter, nature reminds you that there’s always more to come.
Whether you believe in an interventionist God or not, and no matter what language you use to describe unexpected situations, believe in the miracle that hope and fresh starts are ALWAYS possible. The pattern of possibility seems to be built into the nature of life.
Don’t just believe in miracles. Live the miracle. Human beings are not unique among species in our ability to compete and destroy in order to ensure our survival. We are probably just the best at it. The true measure of our species is not so much in our ability to conquer as it is in our ability to care, even radical care for those outside of family, nation and species.
2. Sometimes the very thing you fear becomes the path forward.
The other side of hope is fear, and you can’t have one without the other. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is the choice to proceed despite the fear. Susan Jeffers wrote the book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” In it she says, “Fear goes on every journey we take and always has bad advice.” I saw a televangelist describe fear like this. FEAR= False Evidence Appearing Real. At best fear takes an argument from silence or unknown outcomes and lives down to the likelihood of a negative outcome.
Again, learn from nature. Remember the cyclical nature of life, with its ups and downs, peaks and troughs. Every ending is preparing the way for a new beginning. Fear’s imagination may have a half truth about change that is looming. What fear doesn’t know is whether it’s going to be negative change. As Tom Stoppard said, “Every exit is an entry somewhere else.” Sometimes your worst fear actually becomes your greatest opportunity.
Where do you find the ability to deal with fear? This story might illustrate. A mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dog. So the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to fear the panther, so the magician turned it into a panther. Then it was full of fear for the hunter. At this point, the magician gave up. He turned it into a mouse again saying, “Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse.”
Have the heart of a peaceful warrior and nothing outside of you can conquer you. Therefore there is nothing ultimately to fear. You nurture the heart of a peaceful warrior with the rock solid inner stillness that accepts change without attaching to outcomes.
3. Global healing.
The third lesson from the story of the bear relates to the current needs in the world. Kingsolver found the news story about the bear protecting the baby on the same day that America began bombing Afghanistan in 2001. The story is a parable about the challenges we face in our world today. The bear represents both the best and worst of contemporary culture. Our voracious appetite for power, control and possessions leads to internal and external wars. We tear ourselves and each other apart in search of the enemy. And yet the bear is also the answer. There comes a time to stretch across the boundaries that divide us and show compassion across lines of difference, even across species. When we do that we discover that there are no enemies, and fear disappears. A verse in the Hindu Scripture, Isa Upanishad, “Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”
Eleven years later, civilians are still dying in Afghanistan and Iran remains a sleeping bear in a rapidly changing Middle East. 2001 was also the year that America withdrew from the Kyoto climate change agreement. Eleven years later, America still lags the rest of the world in “getting real” about global warming. A 2009 UN study showed that global warming is killing 300,000 people a year and affects 300 million people. By 2030 the same report predicts that half a million people could die every year as a result of climate change.
Think about the need for inclusive spirituality in this context. It’s not just a philosophical curiosity or a sociological experiment. It’s a matter of global healing. Inclusive spirituality is not just about the freedom to think for yourself and take from whatever wisdom sources make sense to you, although that is true. Inclusive spirituality is about reaching across boundaries and conquering the fear of difference. It’s about living in harmony with the earth and seeing the divine wisdom in the earth. It’s about not giving up optimism no matter what the setbacks and how impossible the problems.
Arthur Ashe, the great American tennis player and social activist who died of AIDS a few years ago was asked how does he get through the day when everything seems so challenging. Ashe replied with a profound formula for spiritual activism and I end with these words-
Start where you’re at… Use what you’ve got… Do what you can.