Wallowing as Spiritual Practice

Wallowing as Spiritual Practice

If you’ve read any of my past blog posts, you may remember that I tend see a lot of God on the Animal Planet. First I wrote about a leopard, and then a zebra, and now it’s time to write about an orphaned white rhino calf called Shongi.

Shongi’s was killed by poachers, and its calf—all 300 pounds of it—was too young to take care of itself, so humans became its substitute mother with the intention of eventually returning the young rhino to the wild. They fed Shongi with 20-pound bottles of milk and had to teach it how to navigate a wild rhino’s world.

What really caught my attention, however, is how Shongi’s handlers had to teach the calf how to wallow, something a mother rhino would teach her calf. Wallowing is how large mammals roll or lie in mud or water, not just to keep cool, but also to keep from getting sunburned or bitten by insects. It’s a skill that seems unproductive but proves to be life saving.

Don’t you think—and here I may be reaching too far—that learning to wallow is a lot like learning to pray? Seemingly wasting time wallowing in God’s own holy mud can often give us the protective edge we need to keep from being sunburned by pride and ego or being over taken over by the biting urges of our unruly passions. The more I think about it, God’s grace as mud doesn’t seem that outrageous. Instead, it seems a good thing to wallow in.

Photo: aysbaby/PhotoXpress


About the Author

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" is available at catalog.franciscanmedia.org. He can be contacted at jjmch1300@gmail.com.
  • David Kay

    Yes, Joe, wallowing is a good description. Why not! Put on the armor, a goo thick coat of it. Protection for the beloved of God from those that would pierce our souls.
    Anyone tell me where I can get a good mud pack, maybe one that is blessed ?

  • David Kay

    Wallowing certainly doesn’t fit the clean, starched shirt and tie image I was raised to present to church in. Respect for my elders causes me to halt at the idea of any wallowing.
    However, most of my elders are not around now. Over the years, I have wallowed in lots of self pity and pride, nearly drowned in sin and most of the white and black collar activities they would have not approved of.
    Lately, some rather discordant conversations with my ‘peers’ leave me feeling rather crusty. Maybe a good wallowing in prayer is in order.