Lent 29: Wolves

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Because I am always more warm than everyone else, I often wear sleeveless shirts and sweaters at work. I was at a meeting where someone saw my almost-half sleeve tats, and asked me what they were. People often ask me if there’s a story behind my wolves tattoo. Indeed there is.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.  “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

My tattoo is my daily in-the-mirror reminder to be mindful of which wolf I feed, it does me well to reflect on this throughout the day.

Around the wolves, I have a dragon. Child was born in the Chinese year of the dragon, so draped around the wolf yin-yang, there is a dragon. I got it to remind me that he is my reason for choosing the wolf I feed. And when I’m in a dark place, it’s good to have something to focus on; to walk toward.

Recently, I was looking for a Saint story (I know, you’re shocked). Often, when saints are depicted in images, they have identifying objects with them. That’s how we differentiate between the stained glass windows of old men with white beards and bald heads in their bishop’s cassock. Anyway, St. Francis of Assisi is the saint of flora and fauna in general, but he also has a story specifically about a wolf.

There was a wolf terrorizing the town of Gubbio in Italy. The townspeople asked Francis to help them, so he went to meet the wolf. Turns out, the wolf was starving, so he was killing livestock because he had little other option to survive. He was harming townspeople because they attacked him and tried to trap and snare him. He was defending himself. In the end, Francis found a solution to the benefit of all. The wolf would no longer hunt the livestock or harm the townsfolk. The townsfolk would provide food and not hunt the wolf. The wolf would then protect the town. Reciprocal care.

When we all behave like something is deliberately intending to harm us, we can never see how we might be contributing to the reason why that might be happening. Or what we can do to make it better. It’s interesting to me that in a few months, we’ve gone from a place where “I don’t get sick so I don’t need to worry” was a prevailing attitude, to a place where many people in many places have voluntarily self-isolated to protect them and others. Reciprocal care.

Certainly, there are those who are still cavalier and reckless with other people’s health, but there will always be those who look at a wolf and only see it’s teeth.

This Lent, may I be mindful not only of which wolf I feed, but where I’m getting its food.

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