I tended at this stage to think of my Christian faith as a philosophy of life, not a religion. I had grasped something of its intellectual appeal but had yet to discover its imaginative, ethical and spiritual depths. I had a sense of standing on the threshold of something beautiful and amazing, which my reason had tantalizingly only grasped in part. Like Einstein, I realized that nature “shows us only the lions tail,” while hinting at the majesty and grandeur of the magnificent animal to which it is attached—and to which it ultimately leads.
What will the modern world do if it finds (as very likely it will) that the wildest fables have had a basis in fact; that there are creatures of the borderland, that there are oddities on the fringe of fixed laws, that there are things so unnatural as easily to be called preternatural? I do not know what the modern world will do about these things; I only know what I hope. I hope the modern world will be as sane about these things as the medieval world was about them. Because I believe that an ogre can have two heads, that is no reason why I should lose the only head that I have.
The legend of Solomon’s ring, the adventures of Dr. Doolittle, the attempt to decipher the dots and dashes of dolphins, and the attempt to teach chimpanzees to type out their thoughts on computers all reflect our ancient dream of being able to talk with the animals. As fascinating as a message from outer space would be a message from the inner space of a great blue heron or a common house cat sunning herself on the kitchen linoleum. Their mute gaze suggests a vision of reality beyond our imagining. What do they see in their ignorance that we in our wisdom are mostly blind to? In the book of Numbers, Balaam’s ass sees an angel of the Lord barring the way with a drawn sword in his hand and thereupon lies down in the middle of the road with Balaam still on his back. When Balaam clobbers him over the head with a stick, the ass speaks out reproachfully in fluent Hebrew, and then Balaam sees the angel too. This is perhaps a clue to the mystery. Whereas people as a rule see only what they expect to see and little more, animals, innocent of expectation, see what is there. The next time the old mare looks up from her browsing and lets fly with an exultant whinny at the empty horizon, we might do well to consider at least the possibility that the horizon may not be quite as empty as we think. (Numbers 22:22-31)
Give me priests. Give me men with feathers in their hair, or tall domed hats, female oracles in caves, servants of the python, smoking weed and reading palms. A gypsy fortuneteller with a foot-peddle ouija board and a gold fish bowl for a crystal ball knows more about the world than many of the great thinkers of the West. Mumbling priests swinging stink cans on their chains and even witch doctors conjuring up curses with a well-buried elephant tooth have a better sense of their places in the world. They know this universe is brimming with magic, with life and riddles and ironies. They know that the world might eat them, and no encyclopedia could stop it.