A friend of mine, a new Gainesville resident, was enjoying her early spring evening, when she opened a door and nearly walked into a gator wandering in the parking lot outside. She tells me the whole event was captured on video.
On the video you can see her jolt of surprise, see her slam the door shut, and then slowly ease it open so she can lean her head out to take another look. The gator opened his mouth wide and hissed at her. She slammed the door shut, carefully eased her arm and her phone out so she could take a picture to send to animal control, then slammed it shut again.
I’ve lived in Gainesville twenty years and I’ve yet to have an experience quite like that. But I have noticed that Florida has a chaotic wildness to it that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. Gainesville is a place of shimmering dragonflies, turtles, water lilies and duckweed covering barely-visible retention ponds. It’s a place of deer walking nearly fearlessly in our neighborhoods, stunning spider webs shimmering with rainbows in the morning dew, and climbing vines up to a foot thick.
With the gators and snakes, no-see-ums, yellow flies, and mosquitoes at home in the beauty, you must constantly be aware when you walk outside, whether you’re wondering a park trail, or just sitting in your own backyard.
It’s a dangerous chaotic beauty that I would miss if I ever left the area.
Robert Blake wrote two famous poems that were published together in Songs of Innocence and of Experience. “The Lamb” has a Sunday school-like reassuring innocence to its rhythm and cadence that reminds me of the childhood songs like “Jesus Loves Me.” It begins with the question, “Little Lamb who made thee? Doest thou know who made thee?”
It’s a comforting poem reminiscent of church picnics, Sunday school, and episodes of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood.
For those of us who are not just spiritual, but also choose to invest in being religious, it’s easy for us to surround ourselves with the beauty promised by the poem. Yet the more we draw comfort from the idyllic beauty of the lamb, the harder it is to comprehend the tiger.
“The Tyger” has a pounding, threatening rhythm combined with vivid, industrial images:
In what distant deeps or skies
Burnt the fire of thine eyes!…
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?…
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
As Gainesville residents, we could as easily envision the subject of this poem as a gator; a powerhouse of energy and danger. A power that begs the overarching question of the two poems, asked in the last refrain of The Tiger:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
The answer is an unsettling but resounding ‘yes.’ The lamb and the tiger, as different as they are, both have a place in God’s creation.
While church members increasingly lean towards the comfort of the lamb – speaking our church language, staying indoors, enjoying our air conditioning; the aesthetics of the community around us is increasingly embrace the tiger – the wild beauty of tattoos and piercings, digital nomadism, boisterous music, and creative crafting.
For some of us, maybe it’s time we take a deep breath and step outside our air conditioned church halls to embrace the chaotic beauty in the people, the streets, and the swampland around us. Maybe it’s also time to invite the flowering vines to weave their way into our sanctuaries and bloom.
Both the church and the swamp belong to God.