Saving Stripes

Saving Stripes

Today’s guest blogger, Joe McHugh, is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places, will be published by Franciscan Media in September 2013. He can be contacted at

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I clicked through TV channels and wound up watching the last few minutes of a documentary about migrating animals on the African savannas.  Seeing a tiny zebra foal trying to rouse what turned out to be its dead mother abruptly focused my chaotic mind.

The foal’s father had circled back to be with its colt during its first brush with the brutality of death.  The stallion repeatedly paced back and forth in front of the foal trying, according to the narrator, to get it to follow him back to the safety of the herd.  But at a deeper level, the narrator suggested, the stallion was trying to imprint its stripes on the foal’s memory, so it would start seeing him—not the dead mother—as the one to follow, its new protector and guide.

The next morning I knew I had seen a new metaphor for life with God.  Isn’t God always patiently circling back to us, desperate to lead us away from our addictions to the dead ends of selfishness and sin and into the self-forgetting life of grace?  To make this happen, God is also impatiently trying to imprint God’s own saving stripes on our frightened, isolated hearts.

God’s stripes imprinted most deeply on Jesus, and in the gospels we see saving stories of how God keep returning to touch and heal us in him.  God’s labor of love is luring us away from bondage into freedom, from isolation into community and from our tempting preoccupation with sin and death into the new life of resurrection in the human community with Jesus.

Image courtesy of  Teeratas/


About the Author

  • Davik Kay

    Margaret, my mother, was declared a Methodist saint at her funeral. As the third of her five children, I got a fairly good perspective of her life. She died in my arms.
    It fell my lot to clean out the house to sell. That included the pantry containing hundreds of jars of pears, her specialty. She canned as many as possible each year. Us kids weren’t home enough, so many jars were well aged and looked dark. They had to be emptied for the jars. I poured them two at a time into the toilet and flushed most of them.
    Then the toilet failed to go down. I had forgotten about the septic tank system with its long line to the tank in the field. I called roto-rooter.
    The roto-rooter man said that was the sweetest line he had ever seen.
    Had I just taken those pears and eaten them as she asked, this story would not have been told.