The Internet has brought us nothing if not an overabundance of animal videos. 20 years ago you had to wait until Sunday night for Bob Saget to introduce a montage of cat clips on America's Funniest Videos; now cuteness overload is unavoidable as soon as you open Facebook.
I'm a believer in lifelong learning, and often some of life's greatest lessons can be found simply by looking to God's good creation. For example, I recently learned that some domesticated cats are terrified of cucumbers. Full disclosure, I loathe cats. I would sooner have a pet cucumber than a pet cat. But should I ever find myself the owner of a feline, this is the kind of information that would be incredibly useful.
Still, as much as animals cause us to say, “Awwww,” they also teach us to say, “AHHHH!” Another lesson I have learned: it's unwise to make friends with a white tiger (thanks, Montecore) or let your kids play with a gorilla (RIP, Harambe).
Yes, the animal kingdom has much to offer us if we only remain willing to learn. The latest inspiration I received from a non-human came from a penguin named Dindim. Seeing as today, April 25, 2017, is World Penguin Day, Dindim’s story is a fitting parable on which to reflect.
In 2011, a retired bricklayer named João Pereira De Souza found Dindim on a beach near Rio de Janeiro, not far from his home. The Magellanic penguin was alone and dying, barely able to move because he was covered in oil from a spill. João pulled the penguin from the water and lovingly cleaned him up, wiping off the sludge, restoring him to his pre-scum self and slowly nurturing him back to health. After a few days, João took the bird by boat to a nearby island and released him back into the wild.
That would be a happy enough ending to the story, but Mother Nature had one more twist in the tale to confound even the most skeptical scientists. Later that day, just hours after being set free to roam the wild once more, Dindim showed up in João’s backyard, where he made a home with the old man for the next six months. In February of the following year, the penguin finally set out to sea on his own. A few months later, he made his way back to João, even excitedly squarking (which is, I imagine, the scientific term for a penguin noise) when he saw his friend. This pattern has continued ever since. Some theorize that, since Magellanic penguins typically mate for life with a single partner, Dindim has imprinted on João and will seek no other replacement. The bird stays with his unlikely companion for a few months before migrating out to sea to feed. Like clockwork, Dindim returns each year to his friend and savior to whom he owes his life.
The parallels to the Christian faith are obvious, but no less inspiring for the fact. There is a curse of sin and death on this world, to which we are bound, unable to rid ourselves from the darkness and sludge. Despite our best efforts, we can never clean ourselves up. Tragically, by the time many people realize this predicament it is too late; our time is up, the blackness consumes us to the point of our own deaths. Then there are those who, by no effort or intention of our own, have an up close and personal encounter with a man who changes everything. This man sees us and has compassion. He picks us up, lovingly cleans us off, nurtures us slowly to a fulness of life, and then sets us free to be who we were always created to be. When that happens, when we find this kind of Savior who gives everything to us and asks nothing in return, our only natural response is to give him everything: our loyalty, our friendship, our time, our love.
As you close this browser and make final preparations to celebrate World Penguin Day according to your own family traditions, let me encourage you to reflect in one of two ways:
1) If you ever feel like this world is too heavy, too thick with despair and depravity, know that there is always someone ready to wipe that away and bring the light of hope into your life. His name is Jesus.
2) If you, like Dindim, have been rescued; if you know what it feels like to have your stains wiped clean, to be given a new life, then make Jesus your imprint. Return to him daily, abide with him, squark joyfully for him. Without him, we are just birds in an oil spill.
Dan is a pastor, author, and speaker. He is the founder and lead contributor for My Ordinary Faith and currently serves as a Campus Pastor for Southland Christian Church in Georgetown, KY.