Through a quite ordinary event
many years ago, I started especially liking turtles. I was serving a banquet for around 200 people at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel. The ballroom had been partitioned off into two sections―one comprising two thirds of the ballroom with the other taking up the remaining third. This was done so that the dinner guests could eat, socialize and dance in the larger section while their children played the evening away in the smaller section, which had been turned into a petting zoo.
The servers had finished our work ahead of schedule and, to pass the time before dinner service, I went in to see the petting zoo. I was admiring the creatures, all set out in their aquariums and cages. There were fish, salamanders, gerbils, hamsters, parakeets and even an iguana. So far it had been unmemorable affair. That is to say, nothing strikingly fresh had hit me; I had seen nothing new.
Then I came to an aquarium about halfway through the tour. There in the bottom, surrounded by rocks and little plants, was a turtle. It was smaller than a computer mouse and it moved slowly across the bottom of the cage, a gentle trickle of water wetting the stones under its feet. It was approaching its bowl to eat. Its shell was green and grey with small, intersecting pentagons. It had tiny eyes set into a head that was rather featureless and which at first struck me as unattractive, even ugly. In fact, other than its shell, everything about it was ugly until, suddenly, I saw it. It was stunning. Beautiful. Here was this defenseless creature, unhurried, docile, unassuming, stepping gingerly toward the other side of its aquarium to eat.
Somehow I was having a spiritual experience―a moment of worship and healing as well. The turtle was at perfect peace despite its fragility; I could have reached in and ended its little life in a moment if I had wanted to. Nevertheless, here it was, paying no attention to me, just existing according to the will of God, doing its thing, exuding such quiet gentleness that my heart nearly broke as I stood there watching it. Suddenly the glory of God’s creation swept over me like a holy flood. I became aware that I was beginning to weep.
The turtle had taught me a lesson on the sovereignty of God and the beauty of vulnerability. It was an epiphany that was being superimposed over long-forgotten bitter places inside me. What right did I have to rail against God for creating me as a small, vulnerable child, trustingly walking into life’s assaults? It wasn’t as though any of the blows I had endured had harmed me irreparably. Here was this delicate creature going about its little turtle life, not even questioning its enclosure in an artificial box, scarcely aware of my standing over it. There was something astonishingly pure about its silent movements; it was doing what it was created to do―eat, drink and pad about over the rocks, displaying the glory of God in its simple way.
Why can’t we humans accept our lot? What do we stand to accomplish by squirming in anxiety and finding fault with God for leaving us in a hostile world, vulnerable and often blind to our enemies? Why do we harden our hearts when we are attacked? We only add to our misfortunes when we do. God did not intend for people to be impervious to harm, and all the forces of hell have not been able to obliterate the loveliness of God’s creation. There is still beauty everywhere―even in our cries of pain.