Recently I was at a medical appointment and the nurse asked me about my religious affiliation.
The question took me aback, in part because I wasn’t expecting it and in part because I didn’t know how to answer it.
How could I be honest and also fit my answer into a box on the intake form? The words stuck in my throat.
When We Don’t Fit Into Boxes
Longtime readers, you know the broad strokes of my spiritual history.
You know that having a younger brother who thought differently gave me a firm belief in heaven as a place without barriers.
You know that I attended a cultic church in childhood, and that the experience gave me both beauty and baggage.
You know that I begged God’s forgiveness for every mistake, then discovered that God didn’t need to forgive me because God never judged me. (Unconditional love doesn’t judge!)
But what box to check for all of this?
Introducing Audrey Hepburn and Pippin
In the end, what clarified my spiritual beliefs was a series of photographs of Audrey Hepburn with a fawn named Pippin. These images left me speechless with delight.
Audrey Hepburn is my favorite actress because she is winsome and funny and entirely herself. By all accounts an introvert, she demonstrates a quiet confidence, a strength grounded in sensitivity.
Plus, seeing her as Holly Golightly in Breakfast At Tiffany’s gets me every time. Holly’s lifestyle choices – however chaotic and misguided – are shaped by her profound love for her brother Fred, who has special needs.
Hardly anybody talks about this aspect of the story, but it’s central to Holly’s character. (I wrote about it in a guest post, How Breakfast At Tiffany’s Teaches You to Become a Classic Writer.)
Deer are my spirit animal because they are basically Audrey Hepburn with fur. Seriously, I love them because they exude the same kind of graceful, heart-centered strength. They are both playful and peaceful, majestic and magical.
How Audrey Hepburn and Pippin Met
The story goes that Audrey and Pippin (nicknamed, “Ip”) met on the set of the 1958 movie Green Mansions. I haven’t seen the film, but apparently it’s about a girl who lives in the jungle with a fawn following her everywhere. (That’s the dream, right?)
Since Audrey’s role required that she interact with Pippin quite a bit on-screen, the animal trainer told her to take the deer home and bond. Obviously, it worked.
Everyone noticed the powerful connection between Audrey and Pippin; one reporter wrote:
“ … The five-week-old fawn follows Audrey all over the MGM lot …. The diminutive actress cuddles the animal as if it were a child. In return, “IP” … bathes her face with moist kisses and runs to her side when she calls. ‘I’ve fallen in love with her’, Audrey said, holding IP in her lap between takes.”
A Powerful Touchstone
The story and the photographs became a powerful touchstone for me. Any time I felt afraid and anxious, I’d picture Audrey and Pippin and feel peace flowing into my body.
At first, I identified with Audrey, because I was head over heels for the deer. But the day after I’d filled out the medical form, I saw the images in a new way.
It suddenly dawned on me that maybe God is like Audrey Hepburn and we are like Pippin.
Maybe God looks at us the way Audrey looked at Pippin, with a gentle, fierce tenderness. Maybe She’s in love with us, completely and irrevocably.
Maybe despite all appearances to the contrary, there is no need for us to be afraid.
What To Do When You’re Scared
But what if we have trouble believing that? What if we hear terrible news and, in Rumi’s words, “wake up empty and frightened”?
Then we need to work with ourselves as we would a scared, frightened animal.
If you encountered a skittish animal in the wild, you wouldn’t rush up and embrace it first thing, right? It would startle and bolt if you did.
Instead, you would earn its trust in humble, practical ways. You’d leave out water, nourishing food, and a warm blanket for burrowing.
In this same way, we tend to our spirits by beginning with our bodies.
We get ourselves a drink of water, a hot cup of tea, some wholesome food. We wrap up in comfortable clothes, clean sheets, a soft blanket.
When we are kind to ourselves in these tangible ways, our souls come out of hiding.
Trauma makes them tentative and hesitant, but if we keep offering provision and extending love, they will start believing in something bigger than grief and loss and pain.
What Else Helps Us to Believe?
First, we can notice the ways in which Love is trying to reach us, always. We can be grateful for everything from clean drinking water to kindred spirit friendships.
Next, we can offer kindness to every vulnerable being. We can cuddle our little ones, submit that volunteer application, or share a meal with our new neighbors.
All of this is just another way of expressing the truth of Galatians chapter five verse six, my favorite scripture: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
I haven’t seen a religious affiliation box for, “Audrey and Pippin”, or, “Faith expressing itself through love”, but that’s what keeps me going.
That’s what you have shown to me, in your comments and your words of encouragement. That’s what this community is all about.
And that’s what will carry us home.
Friends, I wrote this prior to the Las Vegas shooting, and I share it as a prayer for mercy for us all.
How do you feel about Audrey Hepburn and Pippin? Join the conversation in the comments below.
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