What The Squirrels Taught Me About God
Published: September 1, 2011
A writer never lacks for diversions. There’s the lure of online shopping, email and, of course, checking Facebook. But for me, the most tempting diversions of all come from nature.
You see, my computer faces a window with a hummingbird feeder attached to it. And for the past few months, my daily companions have been a flock of hungry hummers, which zip back and forth to the feeder all day. They’re so close I can see the intricate patterns on their feathers and the gleam in their tiny black eyes.
The squirrels inhabiting our backyard forest provide another jolly diversion. One group has constructed a huge nest on a limb that’s perfectly situated for me to watch the various occupants’ comings and goings.
One particular squirrel has been diligently climbing up and down the tree with leaves crammed in his mouth. These he carefully stuffs into the nest, bolstering the hidden recesses where he and his squirrel family sleep at night.
In these big nests, baby squirrels are born each fall and spring. And whenever I hear the peculiar high-pitched whistle the babies make, I recall the days when I volunteered with animal rehabilitators who were raising orphaned squirrels.
Some of these little guys had fallen from the nest during storms and were then discovered by folks doing yard work. Others had been rescued by men who fell trees for a living.
When I first started volunteering, I was quite skeptical about the existence of God, but over time, caring for the baby squirrels began eroding my hardened stance.
You see, these creatures are born with their eyes sealed shut, and the eyes don’t open for many weeks. Thus the orphans I raised had never actually seen their furry mothers.
Still, the tiny creatures seemed to have some inborn, quite mysterious knowledge, which emerged little by little as they grew up.
When I provided them with leaves, for example, they knew exactly how to construct a very fine nest. The first time I gave them pecans in the shell, they rolled the nuts around in their paws to test them for soundness—and if the pecans passed the test, the squirrels buried them for future consumption.
Eventually the fuzzy little squirrels grew up and I released them in various locales, including our backyard. And today, whenever I see a squirrel peering at me through my window, I wonder if perhaps he is the great-great-great-great grandson of one of the original brood.
I also think of the days when I was raising clusters of baby squirrels and confronted, for the first time, the intricate and wondrous design in nature.
Oh, I know some people would say the squirrels’ knowledge about building nests and hiding pecans is “just” instinct—but that doesn’t solve the mystery for me.
Instead, there’s a saying by author Thomas à Kempis that nicely sums up the deeper truth: “Every creature (can) be a mirror of life and a book of heavenly teaching.”
In my younger days, I was an ardent student of philosophy and went on to earn a doctorate in the field. I also taught logic and ethics and a host of highfalutin’ subjects in college.
But the squirrels helped me see something no book could reveal.
Through them I beheld what was right in front of me, and yet hidden. They were the mirror in which I saw God’s face.
Lorraine’s journey from atheism to Catholicism is described in her book “Confessions of an Ex-Feminist.” Artwork is by Jef Murray—and all his illustrations for The Georgia Bulletin may be purchased. Readers may e-mail the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.