We often choose dogs and cats as household pets. Yes, Presbytera Marinda and I adopted a dog that was wandering homeless at the Diakonia Retreat Center several years ago. We have been blessed to own him and several loving dogs.
One memory I recall from both my parents is the joy and wonder of visiting the petting zoo growing up. Likewise, I was fascinated by farm animals at my grandparents’ farm. These experiences helped me realize I don’t have to own or possess an animal to observe it, to enjoy it, or to learn from it.
Take for instance these sea lions I photographed on a river in Maine. While they sunned themselves on a rocky ledge, their friendly response to our small boatload of passengers caught my attention. Perhaps they were as fascinated with us as we were with them. As an observer, I tried to imagine the world from their viewpoint. I analyzed their behavior towards me and my fellow passengers and realized they reflected the order of God’s plan for His creation.
Every day, we can find opportunities to reflect how beautifully balanced God created the earth, and everything that lives upon it. In my brief and unexpected encounter, I quickly cherished the presence of these sea lions. They reminded me how God gives us the opportunity and the choice as to our response to Him and each other.
I wish to share with you five endearing aspects of God’s love and mercy as revealed by the sea lions’ behavior toward us. They were:
- Patient – Notice how calm these humble creatures are. Rather than react in a hostile or unfriendly fashion, they patiently accepted us as neutral passersby. In like manner, God patiently waits for us to seek His presence and open ourselves to His Word and to His loving care.
- Non-judgmental – The sea lions received us exactly where we were. They welcomed us for whom we were. Gliding past them in a river boat, they didn’t react negatively based on some fear or prejudice. Likewise, our Risen Lord receives us wherever we may be, and as who we are, and not because of what we have achieved or our position in life.
- Accepting – I noticed that the actual home of the sea lions was not just the rocky outcropping in the river where they rested in the sun. In the top photo, you can see their home includes the river and the forested land, accented with the blue heavenly sky… all filled with other living creatures. In truth, God created the entire earth and gave humanity dominion to serve as its stewards. How often we are tempted to neglect the “rest” of the world – including people, animals, and plants – in favor of our “little piece”… whether it be our house, our workplace, our personal space, or those we prefer to hang out with.
- Courageous – I felt a sense of expectancy from the sea lions. I likened it to the playful spirit reflected in their eyes as they gazed at us. In spite of their having no prior knowledge as to whether we were friends or foes, they didn’t seem to be afraid of us. They didn’t seek to hide from us or abandon us. Only when someone made a loud noise or the boat engine’s noise was too close for comfort did they slide quietly into the nearby water. Even then, they did not become aggressive towards us. I have observed that people can be very suspicious and often question our motives. Will we bring harm to them? What are our intentions in reaching out to them? Based on our prior negative experiences, we may project negative thoughts or actions against others. Or, because we can’t always see the full picture, it can be argued we shouldn’t be as trusting or perhaps naïve as these sea lions. Yet, God neither fears us, nor has He reason to run from us… so why do we sometimes do that to Him?… or to those who are seeking to live in peace with Him… or with us? As God’s children, when we escape or hide, we limit His Spirit that is calling us to be forgiving and merciful.
- Willing to Share a Head-on Encounter – These photos reveal one more beautiful trait. The seals in the water were not swimming away from us. No, they were either treading water, or swimming towards us, waiting expectantly to see how we might respond. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, we are reminded how God patiently waits to welcome back anyone who has abandoned Him. Upon his return, in spite of his having “missed the mark”, God receives and graciously gives us another chance… an opportunity to reconcile, to be restored, and to live in the fullness of His Kingdom.
In Rev. 3:20, we are reminded: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with Me.” For lunch this Sunday, why not take a moment to remind one another of the beautiful attributes of the sea lions… how they are patient, non-judgmental, accepting, courageous, and especially willing to share a head-on encounter with those different from them.
Having reminded one another that the sea lions were given these precious virtues by our Creator, consider talking about ways our family members can unlock and open the doors of their hearts and souls to welcome our special lunch guest this Sunday who is standing at the door… our Risen Lord, Jesus Christ!