For the past couple months we’ve had a red fox living on our property who makes regular appearances to us throughout the day. I began leaving food out for him and now he regularly swings by to check his bowl, sometimes several times a day. His presence has brought us a lot of joy. We look forward to catching sight of him through our kitchen window as he savors his meals. There’s something oddly satisfying about sharing a quiet moment with a wild creature whose life briefly intertwines with mine. I’m moved toward generosity and compassion for this single soul who resides on the same piece of land where I dwell and relies daily on the provisions of creation to sustain him. Living in the woods that surround my home, this beautiful fox, no doubt, has many predators to contend with. Everything from parasites to coyotes lurk in the shadows, threatening his very life. I think that’s why he chose to live so close to us. While he most assuredly considers us a potential threat to his existence, he reasons that our presence reduces the eminent threat of more ferocious enemies that seek to have him for lunch. He watches us from afar, never venturing toward his bowl while we’re outside or while the pups are bustling about near the fence line. He waits. And once the yard is still and quiet, he prances over to his bowl, almost tip toeing. Keenly aware of his surroundings, he helps himself to the meal that he didn’t have to hunt for as he glances around, as if expecting a sneak attack at any moment. I watch from the window. My heart swells with joy. And as my eyes take him in, joy breaks into sadness.
Fully immersed in the moment, I become ardently aware of life’s paradoxical momentum. The delight of experiencing this creature benefit from kindness that flows through me, enriching his life in some small way is inextricably mixed with sorrow as I notice his haggard appearance. Our resident fox has begun to look significantly lean and moth eaten. His coat, once full and fluffy, has become dull, thin and patchy. His tail now bare, hangs low behind him. The struggles of life persist in tandem with the joys, all tangled up in a smooth cluster of sharp edges. I want to reach out and soothe his weary spirit, offer some solace for his pain and sorrow. Instead I stand there, eyes fixed on his pricked ears, unable to offer him any real comfort. I whisper, “shalom”.
I’m keenly aware that the mange that has our familiar friend in its grip could very well be his demise if left untreated. A bit of research led me to a solution, so I began lacing peanut butter & jelly sandwiches with medicine and leaving them in his bowl. The sandwiches serve as an “on the go” snack for the fox that we now affectionately refer to as Felix. While Felix generally lingers at his bowl, taking time to eat his canned dog food and left-overs from our table, he doesn’t waste any time with the pb&j sandwiches. He scoops up the whole sandwich in one fell swoop and quickly trots back into the cover of the wood-line to savor it. It’ll take multiple doses over the course of weeks to completely rid him of mange, but after just four doses he seems to be more comfortable, less itchy. As I watch out of my window this morning, Felix emerges from the edge of the woods, sneaks over to his bowl, careful not to draw the attention of the rambunctious puppies on the other side of the fence, and shoves his sandwich into his mouth with a smile. As he trots away there’s a spring in his step, a hint of glee in the air around him. I watch him disappear into the woods behind my house and sadness breaks into joy.
And such is all of life. Reality is both light and darkness or it isn’t reality at all. There is no pleasure without pain, no joy without sadness. It’s the inevitable cycle of all of creation; birth, death, resurrection. To live, to be free, is to plunge into the depths of this reality and allow it to transform you from the inside out. I have become aware of my own compulsion to desire situations, circumstances and even people to be other than they are. Inner conflict and turmoil steal my peace as I see disease, poverty, violence, hate, greed as noxious intruders that have no place in my life. The contradiction assaults me as all of life, inward and external, is filled with these painful elements I’d rather root out. But to force them out, out of myself and the world around me, is to wage war, to do violence and solidify the very thing I fight against. The desire for life to be other than it is propels me into a psychological illusory world that is altogether detached from reality. It’s insanity. And yet most people live enslaved, trapped in a vicious cycle of thoughts that drive a wedge between them and the peace they so desire. To witness the perils of fox-life; the parasites that drain life, the predators that never stop stalking, the scarcity of food and resources, ushers in a deep grief as reality collides with my desire for life without struggle. As I surrender the way things should be upon the altar of the way things are, I sink into the depths of what is and emerge on the other side, not acquiescent, but filled with peace that inspires vibrant action and vitality. There’s not resentment or passivity in this type of surrender, but an engagement with reality that invokes a peace that surpasses understanding. This is the truth that Jesus spoke of, the truth that sets people free.
Felix the fox isn’t caught up in thoughts about how his life should be. There are no contradictions for him to navigate, no resentment, no inner turmoil. Felix is free to be exactly who God created him to be. He hasn’t been wracked with worry about where his next meal will come from or what he’ll do about that persistent itch. It would seem that Felix has taken the words of Jesus to heart, “Therefore, I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25). It’s so simple that a wild fox gets it. Even the birds and lilies resonate this resounding truth; “they neither sow nor reap”, “they neither spin nor toil”. And yet life has graciously bestowed upon Felix safe shelter, abundant food and remedy for what ails him. Through uncertainty comes contentment like the shimmering light of a midnight star piercing the dark. I appreciate the wisdom of a sly fox that invites me to be who God created me to be. Engaging with all of creation as it is, both magic and tragic, without the tension and antagonism of my own self-sabotaging opinions and desires is what sets me free. To cease worrying and to trust. To simply be.
I scrape the contents of a 13 oz can of dog food into Felix’s bowl and tap the spoon against the rim to alert him that dinner is served. I whisper, “shalom” as I turn and walk back toward the house. Is it weird to pray for a fox? You might think so. I really hadn’t given it much thought until I typed these words. But if I’m honest, I find it much easier to breathe out prayer for a fox than for many people I know. And I know that God blesses foxes as I’ve been fortunate enough to experience it firsthand.
May the Lord bless and keep you, Felix.