It was one of those moments of grace which reminds the soul of wonder and makes one see once more God’s glory in the world.
It was only a little thing; I turned onto a small path which climbed into the forest and, looking upwards into the hill, saw a young deer grazing in the long grass. It raised its head and looked at me but I swiftly froze and it did not run away. I curbed my wish to draw closer and took only the smallest, quietest steps before stopping altogether. It returned to feed among the grasses.
Mal’ah ha’aretz kinyanecha – The world is full of your wonders, O God! I don’t why I love deer so much, especially fawns. Maybe it’s because of their innocence; they kill no other sentient beings. Or maybe it’s because of their timidity; one sees them only relatively rarely, just as wonder and beauty only rarely overwhelm the heart. But for those few minutes they absolutely did, and for once the world of enmities and angers, politics and conflicts, was not the reality at all. It was wiped in a moment right out of my brain. Instead came this heaven on earth, this precious, beautiful, tender life. A further movement caught my attention and on the other side of the footpath I saw another deer behind the pine trees; she seemed a little larger, perhaps the mother of this young one or perhaps a slightly older companion. They continued to graze, unperturbed.
I stood still and watched, fearful lest I make the animals afraid. I regret this fear we humans carry with us like our own shadow, ineluctably, like the sorrow which followed after Eden. Why do we of necessity cause so many other living beings to be frightened of us? Why, at the very smell of us, do they flee? Often I’m ashamed of our species.
Here, I thought, was the proper place to pray. ‘Consider, as you do so, that the Shechinah, the presence of God, is immediately before you’, teaches the Shulchan Aruch, the sixteenth century standard code of Jewish law. But this time I did not have to imagine. Surely this was God’s very world right before me and, if the name Shechinah, (from the root shachan, ‘to dwell’) meant God’s indwelling presence, then at this moment it dwelt right here in this forest and within these gentle animals. So I prayed with them, and my companionship with them was my prayer and God was all around us, and infinitely beyond.
When I finished I did not turn round to walk away but took small steps backwards as I do when I withdraw from before the open Ark, finding it a slight, and shameful, to turn one’s back on holiness.
I realise that what I’ve written has nothing to do with anything, except that without such moments would we really want, or be able, to live? They sustain us in secret for days and months and decades, like a subterranean well within the depths of the heart. They are the wonder, the song and the glory which the soul has always longed for and which it recognises at once when it sees: ‘This is my God, whose beauty I shall tell’.