Do you have an animal you love more than all others, your so-called “charismatic animal?” When you see them you smile, you laugh, you love?
Panda, otter, penguin, albatross, white shark? Aquariums and zoos know that charismatic animals get folks in the door. Not just that they are cute, although that helps. Charismatic animals inspire a heart connection, caring and fascination, even devotion. If we want to inspire care for all of creation, it is the charismatic ones who open doors and hearts. Come for the otter, stay for the worms and lumpsucker fish. Creation needs them all.
When I was a kid, penguins were “my” animal. I adored them, still do. My shelves still hold my extensive library of penguin books. Over the years folks have given me penguin coffee cups and stuffed animals and salt and pepper shakers and sweatshirts. My lifelong penguin flock includes this fab life-sized FAO Schwarz King Penguin, Arthur. My beloved mother made me penguin skirts and Halloween costumes, took me to the Bronx Zoo, bought me Arthur. When the Monterey Aquarium opened a penguin exhibit I volunteered for an extra two hour shift every Monday morning, arriving before opening hours, in rubber waders, to scrub penguin poop off the rocks with various brushes – my reward was at 10:30 I could help feed these dear charismatic ones.
“Charismatic” comes from “charism,” meaning “gifted.” Everyone has gifts - we are all gifted, says the Apostle Paul. “Many gifts, one spirit.” IE these charismatic animals are no better than the worms or lumpsuckers, every animal has gifts. What the charismatic ones do is pull our heart strings. God and I so love the penguins that I will give my beloved Monday morning and scrape their poop off the rocks, that all might know and believe that God wants health and life for all creation. (John 3:16)
Paul says our gifts are not precious personal possessions, but are given by God to benefit and bless the whole community. Otters bless their whole kelp forest habitat – without otters, no kelp forest – they eat the abalone and urchins that would devour the forest. It’s called being a keystone species. Sharks, like wolves, are top predators – without them there would be too many sick and weak animals and an unhealthy ocean. They are not just cute, they are life preservers, keystones, flagships. What are the keystones, flagships in your life?
The Aquarium’s sweet albatross, named Makana, blesses and baptizes us every day simply with her presence. But she also teaches us about the problem of plastics and challenges of being an ocean bird. Her name Makana literally means “gift,” “charism.”
Our Blue Theology service trips and pilgrimages include personal visits with charismatic animals like Makana, the penguins and otters and of course us, the charismatic members of the Christian Church of Pacific Grove. Be in touch – www.bluetheology.com. I post these Wednesday ocean devotions here and on Facebook.