I don’t remember the first time I went to the zoo but I certainly do remember the last time I went. It was in Philadelphia, and that zoo is humongous. It was fun just walking around looking at all the different animals that have been secluded there for our curiosity and admiration. I haven’t looked up the history of how zoos were first started but I get the sense that that idea probably came from the story about Noah, who kept pairs of every animal on earth to save them from the flood.
Zoos, I think, feel like a prison. There’s no option of escape for any of these animals. Instead, they spend their time lying leisurely about. They eat and walk around in confined spaces. They see you and me walking around them, but they have little-to-no interaction with us. They stare at you just as much as you stare at them. We admire their beauty and thank God for creatures this beautiful. Although they are trapped, the animals we see at the zoo are there for a purpose. There’s a vision underlying their confinement.
Discovering your vision can be liberating. Until that moment, life feels like being trapped - like living in a zoo. Your view, as well as your hope and aspirations for yourself, feels trapped. You may be alive but may not really know why you are. What does it mean to be alive, and what is my vision for myself? Especially as the seasons roll by, many are the questions that become so important for our consideration.
These questions remind me of the story of a baby camel, one who went up to its mother with as many questions as you can imagine.
First question: “Mummy, why do we have humps on our backs?”
Mother Camel smiled and said, “Well, my son, our humps are there to store water, so we can survive long journeys through the desert.”
“I see,” remarked the little camel. Second question: “And why do we have such long legs and rounded hooves?”
“Our long legs and rounded hooves are designed to help us stand and walk in the shifting sand. That’s why we can move through the desert better than any other animal,” she explained.
But the little camel still had other questions. “What about our eyelashes? Why are they so long?” Again, with the infinite patience of a loving mother, she replied, “Well, they are to protect our eyes from the swirling sands during desert storms.”
The little camel stood quietly for a moment, chewing on this awesome knowledge his mother had just dropped. Then he said, “So the humps are for storing water in the desert, the legs are for walking in the desert, and the eyelashes are to protect our eyes in the desert”.
“That’s right, Son,” said his mother with pride.
“Then what in God’s name are we doing in the zoo?”
Why are we in the zoo? We are not using the very gifts that God gave us to survive the desert, the baby camel seems to be telling the mother.
Do you find yourself living in a zoo? Are you doing what God intends for you to do? Are you using your gifts in a way that glorifies God?
For me, the beauty of Advent is the feeling of rediscovering God’s purpose for us and rediscovering our vision for ourselves. These are not diametrically opposed to one another; at some point, they converge. But the convergence only occurs when we begin to live into what we believe to be God’s purpose for us and our vision for ourselves.
During the period of Advent, and as we prepare ourselves for Christmas, the questions for your consideration are:
What am I doing in the zoo?
Is it possible that God’s purpose feels trapped within me?
What stops me from living out God’s purpose for myself?
What do I believe is my vision for myself?
And can I live it out in praise and honor to God?
How do I converge within me and in my life, God’s purpose for me and my vision for myself?
God establishes God’s purposes for us by sharing with us the impossible story of what can be. Remember - because with God all things are possible, the Christmas story, then, is a story about what can be, it is a story about how God changes our individual narratives when we are willing to respond to God’s invitation like Mary.
Listen to Mary: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” Are you willing to make that sacred confession? Or do you feel like the gentleman who told Jesus that he first had to go bury his father before he can follow him? Either way, there’s a part of you that seeks to be liberated from living in a zoo.
The good news is that you are the one person who can liberate that part of you!
I believe that God created us with gifts so unique that we don’t have to live in the zoo. We have to be where God planted us just so we can live out the way God intended for us to live, just so our vision of ourselves may be one of glorifying God, just so our vision and God’s purpose may always sing in harmony. I long for that harmony in our individual and communal lives. I pray for it.
As you prepare yourself for Christmas, it is my prayer that you will discover within you God’s gift to you. More to the point, may you be willing to tell yourself, there’s more to me than I can presently acknowledge or embrace.
May this Christmas lead you on the path of rediscovery, and may it be your best one yet.