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Afternoon of the fawns

June 1, 2012

“Slowly we crept up-stream, laboriously feeling—it was the dry season—for the channels between the sandbanks.  Lost in thought I sat on the deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal conception of the ethical which I had not discovered in any philosophy.  Sheet after sheet I covered with disconnected sentences, merely to keep myself concentrated on the problem.  Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed  upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase, ‘reverence for life.’  The iron door had yielded: the path in the thicket had become visible.  Now I found my way to the idea in which world- and life-affirmation and ethics are contained side by side.”

Albert Schweitzer, Out of My Life and Thought (1948), p. 185

Yesterday, tying up my blessed Norton grapevines, yet again—they grow so vigorously at this season and, in contrast to the rather sedate ways of vinifera vines, want to plop over and spread out and mingle with the over-grown grasses and weeds—something brown, something I’d just uncovered under a particularly refulgent vine, caught my eye.  Looking back to the vine I’d just finished, I saw a small fawn, no larger than a good-sized cat, curled in on itself, lying very quiet.  It made no move as I approached, but watched me through big smoky eyes.  I wondered if it could walk, how long it had waited there for its mother, whether its mother would be alarmed if she could sense that I’d petted her baby.

I moved on, into the last row in this long, late-spring vineyard labor (if I could not call it “a labor of love” I would think myself crazy) when I discovered another fawn, hardly distinguishable from the first, in a similarly bowered spot. I went back to the house for a camera, to record this “visitation.”  It was something less than a herd of hippos in an African river, but the event lent me a similar sense of reverent hush, of being  blessed.  It caused me to be concerned for these two young lives—twins, perhaps—so alone, so at the mercy of whatever beast should discover them.  Even one such as I!

I learned Albert Schweitzer’s story of how he came upon the idea of “reverence for life” long ago in my Unitarian Sunday School.  Dorothy Teare, one of our teachers, the mother of a best friend, Richard, was especially devoted to Schweitzer.  I remember the small bust of Schweitzer in the Teares’ home.  Ever since, when I transport insects out of doors, rather than assassinate them (I’m not a Jain, so all species do not receive this consideration), Barbara says I’m “doing my Albert Schweitzer thing.”

A few years ago UUA President William Sinkford modestly suggested that we Unitarian Universalists renew our acquaintance with “reverence.”  To die-hard rationalists it seemed like a radical suggestion.  I could only smile: Just how rudimentary can we get in our theology?  But “judge not”: there is a genius in Sinkford’s suggestion, and in Schweitzer’s ecstatic certainty: reverence for life—a term so simple, so pure, so rooted in primal feeling.

InAustin,Texas last weekend for a wedding and to preach at my former church, I found myself in conversation with John Berry, a poet and friend going way back.  I don’t recall how we got into it, but John said he’s found that, when you go looking for something, it hides; when you walk away, it unexpectedly comes to you.  Schweitzer’s story of how he came upon “reverence for life” seems to be a case in point.  Should I not say I came upon those fawns, but that they came to me?

That would mean reading the whole experience symbolically, as an event that becomes meaningful when we see how it points beyond itself.  And to be sure, that’s what I’ve been ruminating recently: How to think theologically?   Or more pointedly: Why do we believe in God?  “Ah!  Suddenly those fawns arrived at my very feet!”

And almost as soon, they were gone.  When I came back a couple of hours later they were nowhere to be seen.  I imagine mother deer had been watching from the nearby woods, and that, even at their tender age—a few days?—she had been able to shepherd her babes to safety.  To do her own “reverence for life thing.”    G. K. B.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2012 7:53 pm

    John Berry… I believe I’ve read some of his work. I had a similar moment as you and your fawns with our backyard groundhog yesterday evening. Not so much with the black snake by our brooder, also yesterday…

  2. Linda permalink
    June 4, 2012 8:33 am

    You were the canary that warned this mom she needed to find a very safe spot for her babies. Thanks for the benediction (and photos).

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