We came suddenly to a clearing in the Zambian woodland and stopped. Our guide, in excited whispers, told us that we were seeing a near miracle. Only a few yards ahead, a mother zebra was caring for two colts. "The littler one's mother died," said the guide, "and this mother has adopted her." He went on to tell us that, in this species, this almost never happens, and an abandoned or orphaned baby zebra usually dies.
I was touched by the expansive, instinct-breaking behavior the mother zebra was exhibiting. Somehow this gentle and beautiful animal had been prompted to nurse and care for another's offspring.
For many years I have loved the expansive and tradition-breaking interpolation that Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, gave to the Lord's Prayer in her major work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures." After the familiar first line, "Our Father which art in heaven," she inserted, "Our Father-Mother God, all-harmonious" (pg. 16). The all-inclusive motherhood of God must have embraced this mother zebra, and a thousand generations of instinct and socialization fell away as she met this baby's need.
I thought about that zebra often in the ensuing weeks and months, when faced not only with news reports of abandoned children in our cities, but also by their faces at my car window as they beg for handouts to keep themselves alive. I yearn to know that God has not abandoned them, that the motherhood of God can be felt, here and now. Whether the individual children are orphaned by AIDS or abandoned because of parental incompetence or terrible poverty, I don't know. It doesn't matter. There seems to me to be a greater urgency than ever before to do something in a practical way for the parentless children of the world.
And people are responding. My wife's work brings her wonderful stories of a 20-day-old infant, after having been abandoned under a bridge, being rescued and adopted by a loving couple, and of a childless couple adopting all four children in one family group - to name two examples she encountered in a single day this week.
Many more people who cannot adopt are prompted by a love that can only be called Godlike to contribute generously to charitable organizations, most of them faith-based, that provide stable, homelike environments where children can sleep safely off the streets, eat nourishing meals, and go to school. Others collect clothing and toys for unfortunate children. All these activities are wonderful.
Then there's prayer. A friend once told me that when she found herself waking in the night, instead of fretting about the sleep she was missing, she used that time to pray for the children of the world. Prayer that starts with the allness and omnipotence of God recognizes that no one can fall outside the awareness and care of divine motherhood. This isn't just fanciful imagining. Prayer contributes to humanity's growing sense of brotherhood. It is practical. Prayer opens unexpected doors.
A number of years ago, such an unexpected door opened for us, and almost as suddenly as we came upon that mother zebra, we adopted two children who had been orphaned by AIDS.
We hadn't really planned to do it, but we had been praying to understand more of the universal nature of God, this divine motherhood, and the inescapable brotherhood of man. And what occurred was very much like the way Paul wrote in the book of Romans, "Ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:15, 16).
The adoptive parents and the adopted children felt this divinely parenting Love. Barriers of language, custom, race, paled before the single fact that we are all children of God. Holding to this spiritual fact kept our family boat on course, and today we are proud of our wonderful adult children, who are contributing in solid ways to their communities.
Adoption isn't for everyone; the mother zebra doesn't have to be a universal symbol. But prayer can lead us to activities to support the world's needy children in appropriate and practical ways as we respond to the impulse of God's motherhood.