Friday, April 19, 2024

Penguin Spirituality

I saw a video the other day that has stayed with me. It was a National Geographic clip of a group of emperor penguin chicks taking their first swim. This was no tentative dip in the ocean. This was a dramatic plunge off a fifty foot cliff. If you want to view the video, here it is on YouTube 

It makes me wonder what evolutionary urge leads them to perform such an act of courage. It also immediately made me think of spirituality. Speak of a leap of faith! This is not the safe religion of traditional Christianity. This is a leap into the unknown. Spirituality at its best is a dive into the Unknown.  

One cannot really know God. Our minds are too small. The god we think we know is a creation of the human mind, crafted in our own image and reflecting our own values. God can only be experienced by unknowing, as the anonymous author of the medieval classic, The Cloud of Unknowing, said.  

These penguin chicks had never been in water. They did not know what water was. They had never flown in the air. They knew nothing about height and depth. Yet they instinctively knew this was their destiny. Therefore as a group they traveled to the edge of their known world. 

When they got to the end of their world, they paused. The ones in the back urging forward the ones in the front. Then one brave soul made the first leap into the abyss, flapping useless wings, plunging into the unknown. This pioneer of penguin faith surfaced and frolicked in the water. Then the next one dove in, and then the next. Then two at a time. Then three or four at a time. Some falling and others diving 

Some chicks entered the water more gracefully than others. Some did a belly-flop. Ouch! I can feel their pain! But all survived and swam through the water as if it was second nature.  The lure of the ocean is instinct, written in their genes. One could say that it is their first nature.  

Likewise God is our first nature. We have an instinct for the Divine. God is our calling and our destiny. God is written in our genes. We come from God and return to God. Throughout our lives we “live and move and have our being” in God, as the apostle said. It is our nature to dive into Divinity. “Deep calls to deep,” the psalmist says 

This is the source of all genuine spirituality. It can feel terrifying to be on the edge of a precipice, peering into the unknownWhether that unknown is life-threatening illness, imminent death, or a new expression of religious faith. But when we take the dive, we find our true nature. We are free to be who we have always been. This is what it means to be born of the spirit ... and the water!  

1 comment:

Larry said...

Marshall this is brilliant. Such an apt metaphor that works all the way through the analysis and comparison with the spiritual life. I so appreciate the depth of your observation and how you articulate so clearly what is often a feckless search for words.