We spent the afternoon yesterday at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden's Japanese Garden. It was a perfect day for a visit to this sheltered and lovely place: cool, breezy, overcast just enough to keep the bees away, pleasantly uncrowded and delightful.
The Japanese Garden has an atmosphere of calm tranquility, even in the winter when some of the plants aren't in bloom. There are green pines, abundant grass lining the paved walks, and a few of the plants and trees are beginning to show signs of colorful buds or berries. We enjoyed a quiet ramble over the stone paths and wooden bridges, feeling far removed from the city traffic that lay just beyond the entrance gates.
There are hundreds of koi fish in the deep pools of water that run through the center of the garden. The koi are quite used to humans, and quite glad to see them, since there are also little coin-operated machines that dispense food pellets visitors may use to feed the fish. The faintest shadow of a human presence can bring a fish or two hopefully to the surface of the green smooth ponds; they drift, mouths open, hoping for a scattering of largess. Should you begin to feed them, they will be joined by dozens of others, rising to the surface in splashes of bright-colored fins, like an undulating underwater rainbow, waiting hopefully and patiently for their turns at the food.
If you drop a pellet amid the fish, the ones who don't succeed in obtaining it will remain close by, in case you have more to share. They will all move quite close to the bridge or pavilion where you are standing, and if they seem sometimes to bump each other out of the way, it is more like the unconsciously excited and slightly thoughtless movements of a group of kindergarteners lining up for ice cream; there's no rancor in it, no deliberate attempt to move the fish in front out of the way to increase their own chance of getting a bite or two to eat. They seem somehow to know that there is plenty, that there has been some earlier today and will be more tomorrow, that the creatures who stand above and feed them will return and return, and will never do them any harm. They are unafraid, watchful, eager, and trusting.
Yesterday the fish were joined by several ducks; there was a mallard, and some of these lovely creatures. The ducks were clearly uneasy to see us and the few other people walking through the shady garden; they would startle, swim or fly from one side of the pool to the other, and approach only hesitantly and with great trepidation even when they could see that the fish were being fed. Wanting the food, but not wanting to risk any danger to get it, they would skirt along the edge of the muddle of feeding fish, waiting to see if a stray morsel would be thrown to a comfortable distance; if it was, they would dart in, heads low, necks extended, to scoop up the bite and then turn and retreat to a safe distance, just in case. When two or more ducks would head for the same drifting pellet, they would come skidding to a halt with a splash of webbed feet and a ruffle of feathers; there would be honking recriminations, especially when a placid fish would drift up underneath the feuding birds and snatch the prize out from under them.
Sailing in and out, pushed closer by greed and away by fear, these birds didn't fare nearly as well as the fish did. Though my girls were more than eager to share the pellets with the ducks, the birds couldn't get past their innate fear of humans and their surety that at any moment what seemed like a simple way to get a meal could become a life-threatening trap. Just as the fish have become calm and fearless, knowing themselves to have the status of pets, or of honored residents of the garden, so do the ducks cling to their more transient status and all the knowledge of the world and its dangers they carry with them even into so safe and quiet a place.
Animals can't help what is in their nature, of course. But I started to wonder how often, in approaching God and seeking His aid, we act more like the ducks than the fish.
The fish, after all, come quickly and gladly into human presence, with their mouths already open in supplication, and their behavior revealing how confidently they hope that their pleas will be answered with swift and abundant blessing. Patient, they await the food; if they don't receive it this day, this hour, they will try again another hour, another day. They don't hold grudges against each other, and those who eat don't lord it over those who have yet to find food.
The ducks hover suspiciously, reluctant to ask, too fearful to approach the food no matter how much they want it. They fight over the tiny morsels and lose some of them in their squabbling; they snatch what is given as if they have earned a right to it, and never think of the ones giving it out except with fear and dread. They will swim away with their tail feathers aloft in affront if they are not successful; they have no expectation of being given this opportunity again in the future, but are letting their own fears keep them from enjoying it in the present.
When we turn to God for help, shouldn't we wait in calm confidence that we will receive what is necessary? When we see others showered with blessings, shouldn't we continue to wait, knowing that God's time is not ours, and that He Who sees all will know the proper time and best way for us to have our prayers answered? Should we not come gladly into His presence, instead of hoping for blessings we have not sought, and fearing the consequences of too close a relationship with Him?