in february of this year i learned to love penguins. more than that, i became fascinated with these tuxedo-clad beings. i went to the theater with a friend (maybe amy or abby or bethany -- i think it was abby, but i digress) to watch a movie called definitely, maybe. penguins, i learned from the feature presentation, are life long mates (so says abigail breslin). even if circumstances prevent the pair from being together, upon being reunited the penguins will recognize their lost love (yes, penguins experience love -- don't ruin my story).
the next day i went shopping with my mama and found, hidden behind random decor and stationary of all things, a two-foot tall silver penguin marked down to five dollars. whether it was coincidence or fate, that penguin was calling my name. i promptly bought it, and it currently resides on my bookshelf next to a two-foot tall bronze owl... i don't yet have a story about the owl, but it'll come.
fast forward ten months to me in my bed reading a book called blue like jazz: nonreligious thoughts on christian spirituality. i started this book late last night; yet, i'm already on chapter six because it's just that good.
chapter five is entitled "faith: penguin sex." now don't get your panties in a wad; there is indeed spiritual application. and though the title is a bit perplexing, i smiled upon seeing it and thought for a brief moment about my experience back in february.
here's the good stuff -- miller's words, not my own:
i felt silly trying to explain it [why i believed in God], even though tony is a christian. i felt as if i were saying i believed in peter pan or the tooth fairy, and yet i don't believe in peter pan or the tooth fairy. i believe in God, and as i said before it feels so much more like something is causing me to believe than that i am stirring up belief. in fact, i would even say that when i started in faith i didn't want to believe; my intellect wanted to disbelieve, but my soul, that deeper instinct, could no more stop believing in God than tony could, on a dime, stop being in love with his wife. there are things you choose to believe, and beliefs that choose you. this was one of the ones that chose me.
"you know what really helped me understand why i believe in Jesus, tony?"
"penguins," i told him.
"penguins," i clarified. "do you know very much about penguins?"
"nope." tony smiled. "tell me about penguins."
"i watched a nature show on OPB the other night about penguins. they travel in enormous groups, perhaps five hundred of them, and they swim north in the coldest of winter, so far north they hit ice. they look like cartoons, like something out of the movie Fantasia. all five hundred of them swim till they hit ice then they jump out of the water, one by one, and start sliding on their bellies. they sort of create ruts as they slide, and they follow each other in a line. they do this for days, i think."
"they slide on their bellies for days?" tony asked.
"days," i told him.
"i don't know," i confessed. "but after a while they stop sliding, and they get around in a big circle and start making noises. and what they are doing is looking for a mate. it's crazy. it's like a penguin nightclub or something -- like a disco. they waddle around on the dance floor till they find a mate." a life long mate, mind you.
"then what?" tony asked, sort of laughing.
"penguin sex," i said.
"yes. penguin sex. right there on television. i felt like i was watching animal porn."
"what was it like?" he asked.
"less than exciting," i told him. "sort of a letdown."
"so what does penguins having sex have to do with belief in God?" tony asked.
"well, i am getting to that. but let me tell you what else they do. first, the females lay eggs. they do that standing up. the eggs fall down between their legs, which are about an inch or something long, and the females rest the eggs on their feet. then, the males go over to the females and the females give the males the eggs. then, and this is the cool part, the females leave. they travel for days back to the ocean and jump in and go fishing."
"the females just take off and leave the men with the eggs?" tony asked.
"yes. the males take care of the eggs. they sit on them. they have this little pocket between their legs where the egg goes. they gather around in an enormous circle to keep each other warm. the penguins on the inside of the circle very slowly move to the outside, and then back to the inside. they do this to take turns on the outside of the circle because it is really cold. they do this for an entire month."
"yes. the males sit out there on the eggs for a month. they don't even eat. they just watch the eggs. then the females come back, and right when they do, almost to the day, the eggs are hatched. the females somehow know, even though they have never had babies before, the exact day to go back to the males. and that is how baby penguins are made."
"very interesting." tony clapped for me. "so what is the analogy here?"
"i don't know, really. it's just that i identified with them. i know it sounds crazy, but as i watched i felt like i was one of those penguins. they have this radar inside them that told them when and where to go and none of it made any sense, but they show up on the very day their babies are being born, and the radar always turns out to be right. i have a radar inside me that says to believe in Jesus. somehow, penguin radar leads them perfectly well. maybe it isn't foolish that i follow the radar that is inside me."
so there you go. another penguin story to add to my collection. but more than that, i like what millers says. belief in God isn't really scientific. a lot of it doesn't make sense, and though at times it all seems quite silly, it's as if this particular belief chooses us -- something internal positions us at the foot of the cross where we see our failures and know a love that is unfathomable. my Jesus doesn't always make sense, but my penguin-esque radar says to press on.
i love those little waddlers, and i love the Creator who so intricately designed them. my prayer for you in the new year is that your radar will direct you to the One who makes all things new. Jesus has chosen you... and He wants to be your life-long love.