You Cannot Lose Your Soul
Thoughts Have Life
Christmas at the Mission
Why Do We Have Memories?
Live is an Active Verb
Take the Hint
A Small Elephant
Change of Environment
It’s Like Eyelashes
Pots o’ Clay
Dancing With the Wind
Humble Neither in Might Nor Main
The Death Procession
The Ant’s Point of View
Staring at the Stars
Explain Fish to Me
Why is There Life?
The elephant decided it was time to have a talk with God. He had been troubled for weeks, and he wasn’t feeling any more assured, even at the new watering hole. He walked away from the rest of the herd and went through the jungle for half a day until he came to a large clearing filled with tall grass. He ate for an hour, then raised his head and trumpeted. Nothing happened, so he trumpeted again.
“I heard you,” said the voice from the sky.
“That’s all right. I was with another elephant.”
A cloud hovered more closely over his head. “What seems to be wrong?”
The elephant took his time and recited all his questions and problems fully.
“It’s all in the Bible,” said God.
“I can’t read,” answered the elephant.
“That’s not up to me,” said God, and the cloud started moving away.
“Sorry,” said God.
“That’s not very profound!” shouted the elephant at the disappearing cloud.
“You’re only an elephant,” answered God.
The elephant was happy.
He moved his ears and sprayed water behind them. He grabbed trunkfuls of mud and threw them along his body. He closed his eyes and stuck his head under the river’s surface, then slowly flopped over and settled on his side, stirring up currents which raced to the other shore. He blew bubbles and opened his eyes to see them break against his toenails. He wiggled his tail and scared a fish.
“Give me a squirt, will you?”
The voice alarmed the elephant, and he inhaled when he should not have. He struggled to his feet, coughing.
“Thanks.” The elephant looked around. “Where are you?”
“I’m everywhere,” said God.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” said the elephant.
“Nobody does,” answered the voice.
“I’m sorry. I’ve forgotten what you wanted,” the elephant continued to peer around him.
“I’m over here.”
The elephant looked to his left and saw a huge boulder.
“And what I wanted was to get sprayed with water.”
The elephant lumbered over to the boulder, took a large drink of water, and soaked the grey stone thoroughly.
“Thanks,” said the boulder.
“You could have called up a hurricane,” said the elephant.
“It means more coming from you.”
“I liked you better as a cloud.”
“I’m everything,” answered God. “Being repetitive is a waste.”
“Can you explain that to me?” The elephant sat down by the boulder. “I mean, being everything and everywhere.”
“Not really. It’s a lot like being able to think. Your body can be in the jungle, yet you can imagine a waterhole or the grasslands — many things at once. That’s what I am.”
“Yes … once. About seven hundred years ago. A woman in Shansi Province in China actually figured it all out.”
“Nothing. She wisely kept it to herself.”
The elephant hesitated, then settled more comfortably against the boulder. He felt very content gazing at the blue sky and enjoying the coolness of the water.
“Thanks for mud.”
The elephant grunted, yet the world slept on. The stars kept their steady gaze upon the slumbering herd, and the darkened jungle murmured with its night sounds. The elephant gave a dissatisfied twitch of his trunk and finally rose to his feet. Taking care not to nudge any of his slumbering neighbours, he walked to the river and took a deep drink of water. When he raised his head and shook some final drops from his trunk, he noticed a fluorescent nimbus floating over to the rushing current.
“How did you know?” asked the elephant.
“I was taking a quiet turn with an angel,” the cloud pulsated, “as Katherine Mansfield would say.”
“I can’t sleep,” said the elephant.
“It will come with time; it always does.”
“You made so many questions,” complained the elephant.
“And as many answers,” said God.
The elephant was a curious pachyderm and followed his persistent quest with a guileless intensity.
“More lucky than smart,” said some of the other elephants as he blundered his way toward another piece of knowledge. They nodded their heads in his direction with the heavy weight of caution and warned their small ones that too much thought would make them strange.
“An elephant wades in water,” they would sagely say, “only if the mudhole is wide enough.”
And the little ones would watch him, as they stood between the legs of their parents, and wish that they could follow.
The elephant was on the high cliff overlooking the ocean.
It was not a trip he often made, for although he found the view exhilarating, it was also disquieting. He missed the comfort of the trees and the jungle. Even the grasslands promised an eventual border of protection. But here, his gaze became lost in the horizon, and he could see nothing to prove there was an end.
As he pondered this panorama, he noticed a cloud moving across the ocean below him. It wafted its way up the side of the cliff.
“This is a switch,” said the cloud.
“What’s it like down there?” joked the elephant.
“That would be an easy thing to discover,” noted God.
“This looks like a place of Revelations,” said the elephant.
“Well, thank your God it is no road to Damascus,” said God. “A flash of light could easily startle you over the cliff. Then where would you be?”
“Touché,” said the cloud. “In fact, this would even be an unwise place to kick against the pricks. One false move, and —”
“I thought it was a little knowledge that was dangerous.” The elephant was not yet used to being eye-to-cloud with God. “Shouldn’t a leap from here safely get me all the answers?”
“Don’t overestimate death,” said God. “It’s a transition — not an end. All the answers do not await you at the bottom of this cliff.”
“You make it sound as if I’d just be waking from sleep.”
“‘For in that sleep of death …’”
“‘What dreams may come!’” shouted the elephant. “Yes. Yes. ‘What dreams may come.’”
“Step back now,” cautioned the cloud. “We don’t want you making your quietus quite yet.”
“But that’s the way it often happens; isn’t it?” The elephant carefully moved away from the cliff. “We get the great thing we have wanted for so long but at the same time lose everything else.”
“Your trunk can only hold so much,” pointed out God. “To pick up one thing, you have to put down another.”
“You feel confused?”
“Yes.” The elephant paused and looked around. “Well … no.”
He gazed out over the ocean for a long time and sensed that the silence was not going to be broken by anyone but him.
“You’re doing it again. I get so excited by understanding something that it calms me. Then I get so peaceful because I’ve figured out something, that it frightens me. I get frustrated when I realize how much there is to learn, yet I fear I’ll be bored if I learn too much.”
The elephant walked deliberately back to the edge of the cliff. “I feel as though I could step off and fly to the ends of the sun and the sea.”
“That’s not a feeling I would put into action,” said the cloud.
“So. One revelation a day.”
“Oh, you could handle two,” said the cloud. “But it would be your last one on earth.”
“Gotcha,” said the elephant.
“If you’ve had enough of the view,” suggested God, “perhaps we should be getting back.”
“Are you coming with me?” he called over his shoulder.
“I’m always with you,” said God.
The elephant was dozing on the verge of the grasslands.
He occasionally shifted his bulk from one side to the other and took a leisurely gaze at his surroundings. He did not have far to retreat to the safety of the jungle, so with an open eye and an attentive ear, he felt his precautions were enough. He had not, however, taken into consideration an assault from the air.
“Gotcha,” said the cloud.
“Snort,” said the elephant.
“Let’s be up and away.”
“Us?” queried the elephant, as he struggled to his feet.
“You’ve heard of the royal ‘we,’” said God. “You can imagine how I feel.”
“I,” said the elephant, looking at the cloud, “perhaps can’t imagine it.”
“Perhaps.” The cloud paused in its movement. “But with your imagination, I would say the jury is still out. What I am is approached more closely through imagination than any other door.”
“Faith is an engine of belief. Imagination is the path to understanding.”
“And what path are we taking?” asked the elephant as he followed the cloud into the jungle.
“Tried and true,” laughed God.