The Angels and the Tiger
Here’s another Amy poem for children everywhere. Especially, but not only young children in unsafe situations. Amy Carmichael spent most of her life in South India living with and for young Indian children.
Most were girls; some were boys. Many were temple children, in danger of being used and abused. The nursery in the poem is the area set aside for sleeping during the hot season. Open air style. My comments are at the end.
The Angels and the Tiger
I think the careful angels walk
Where little children be.
One night a tiger came to stalk
His game quite near our nursery.
On our verandah, as we slept
In the warm, open air,
We dreamed good dreams; they kindly kept
Their watch around us everywhere.
And in the morning, when we saw
And counted eagerly
The marks made by each great big paw
A stone’s throw from our nursery,
We wondered what the angels said
To make him go away.
Perhaps they patted his soft head
And whispered, “Tiger, you’re astray.
“See, we will show you by our light
The way that you should go,”
And gently led him through the night—
I wonder, was it really so?
Amy Carmichael, Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael, p. 395; © 1999, The Dohnavur Fellowship, published by Christian Literature Crusade. First published in Buds and Teddies (1936, compiled by Barbara C. Osman) and Dohnavur Songs (1921)
On first read, this may seem a sweet, fairy-tale way of dealing with danger. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all children had angels protecting them from dangers that come lurking in the dark?
Indeed, predators lurk everywhere. They’re in our neighborhoods, on our streets, in our homes. In my neighborhood I see security service signs everywhere. In the city I see iron bars in windows and on doors everywhere. I see shops with fool-proof garage door covers pulled down and padlocked every night.
We don’t know when our children might be stalked by a tiger or, as these children, be in the vicinity of other prey. So what are we to do?
Amy interprets all things mundane in light of a worldview that begins and ends with God. The angels are God’s servants, sent here and there to do God’s bidding. Why shouldn’t angels guard young children sleeping on an open verandah? Why shouldn’t they talk to the tiger, quietly helping it see how to get back on the right path?
Calm courage or fear. Which is the better defense? There’s something attractive and disarming about calm courage that tells the truth.
- I do not belong to myself.
- I do not know the day and the hour of my death or demise.
- I am not in control.
- I have choices.
Fear doesn’t help me make the choice to trust. It throws me into a defensive posture, often before I’ve seen or identified the ‘enemy.’ It happens in conversations, in small and large threats that loom larger than life when fueled by fear.
- The tiger did no damage to the children.
- The children didn’t get fed a big dose of adult fear.
- Neither were they consumed by their own fear.
Instead, they got interested in the tiger and what the angel might have said and done. Even though the children aren’t angels, Amy’s playful interpretation offers an unexpected way to deal with tigers, human or not. A dress rehearsal for life as big girls and big boys?
What better preparation could children have for tigers that lurk in their lives? What better preparation could there be for me, when I come upon tigers in my life? Will I shrink back, consumed by fear? Or will I calmly exercise my choices? Which may or may not include speaking to the tiger and offering it another way.
I don’t need to make friends with the tiger, and I’m not an angel. I do need calm courage to exercise my choices. No matter what happens next.
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 March 2015
Photo credit: feystarlight.deviantart.com