Finding the Divine at the Zoo

I found moments of the Divine and Sacred at the zoo yesterday.

I am lucky enough to volunteer at our local zoo on Saturdays. I am on the Behavior Observation Team for the elephants. I have the honor of getting to observe these majestic creatures for several hours each Saturday and record their behaviors and see how they are doing. It’s such a gift. I started this volunteer work several years ago before I retired from my job (social worker ) and I think that this time on the weekends helped me survive the last several challenging years at my job.

So where did I find the Divine? It is my belief that God, the Universe, the Divine (many names for one Presence) can be be found in the most unexpected places. Of course. When I stop to think about it, how could it be any other way? What we look for is not often at the end of our search, but along the way.

I find moments of this sacred presence in the animals. To have the time to simply be with another being (human or non) and sit and fully inhabit the present moment with them…..that is a gift. To slow down and be with another creature as it simply lives, breathes, and is alive in the moment with me….how often do we really allow ourselves to truly sit and be with someone, something, some moment in time? Time slows down. Worries fade into the background. This is what meditation is for me.

And, if I am open to it, I find other moments of connection to the Divine come to me.

A mother come to stand by me with her two sons …(.I try and answer questions about our elephants when asked, even though I am not a docent, but rather an observer.) One of her sons was, she told me, autistic. His laughter would sometimes scare others away. Although only 11 years old, he was big for his age and could sometimes frighten others with being loud or having sudden jerky movements. I watched this mother, this oh so loving mother, and how gentle and encouraging and positive she was with her son. And I watched how his older brother was gentle and always close by and protective of his younger brother. Although a teenager, he displayed a wisdom and patience beyond his years. The mother spoke to me about how her sons were such a blessing to her, how they had taught her to slow down, live in the moment, appreciate the important things in life and not worry about the little things that really don’t matter in the long run. I was moved. This 11 year old did not want to leave the elephants, so I got to spend close to an hour with them beside me. Enough that I was able to connect with both boys, have them make eye contact with me (a big deal with the 11 year old because of his autism and a big deal with the teenager because of his dividing his time between his brother and his cell phone….). Most people spend an average of two minutes at each exhibit at the zoo – hardly enough to really see the animals. So having an hour to point out different things that the elephants might be doing and explain and help them see….this was lovely. When it was time to leave, the good byes were genuine and heartfelt. I felt such gratitude for such depth of connection in a chance encounter. A moment with the Divine…the Divine in all of us.

A little girl (maybe 4?) came up and stood between my legs the other week as I was observing the elephants and she began talking about the elephants. Her parents were surprised, since none of us had ever met before. And yet, perhaps she sensed a kindred spirit in loving these creatures. It was lovely. She stayed for a few moments, left and then came back again to do a little more of this. As she left, her father said to her “wave goodbye to your new best friend”…. I don’t think he knew what to make of the whole thing. A moment of connection that has no explanation….nor does it need one.

Yet another moment occurred yesterday with another volunteer. I had met her before, and we spent a few moments talking. I have started reading “Bittersweet” by Susan Cain (and have been talking about it to those that I think might relate to it – it talks about the beauty and necessity of darkness and sadness….in much more depth than I can explain here). This other volunteer related to what this was about, and we had quite an intense conversation about this and the need to allow all of our feelings rather than trying to push for only the positive ones….that indeed allowing and getting to know all of what we feel allows so much for depth and appreciation for all the moments of life and the beauty, even in the pain. The pain that allows us to feel and to then be able to connect to others’ pain,… that we can all feel perhaps a bit less alone. Another connection and moment unexplained…

They leave me in awe, these moments and connections. I am reminded that they are all around us and within us, if we only slow down and stop enough to see, hear, feel and share them.

Isn’t it interesting, I wonder, that the older that I keep getting, the more I see the importance of slowing down, stopping, looking, listening, opening….to the earth, to its creatures, to each other, to the Sacred Divine Presence that is in all of these. Including this moment of writing this and sharing it with you. I am grateful for it all.

2 thoughts on “Finding the Divine at the Zoo

  1. Hi Jo! I truly enjoyed reading this post. How delightful for you and the people you met to be able to connect. I agree about slowing down and really pay attention to what is around me in the present moment. That is the part of retirement I was always looking forward to… taking time to see each moment and savor it. I hope all is well with you. Did you just have a birthday?


  2. Hi Janet,
    Thanks for the response…. I’m so glad that you enjoyed my post!
    Yes, I had a birthday on the 14th…. Grateful to make it to another one. I had the second booster the day after my birthday, had a bit of a reaction for a few days, and feeling much better now. At least I know that my immune system is working!
    How you you? Hope you are doing well!


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