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Wild Hope: Stories for Lent from the Vanishing

Gayle Boss (illustrated by David G. Klein)
Published by Paraclete Press in 2020

In her Lenten devotional, Gayle Boss aims to awaken us to the interconnections between our existence and that of our fauna kin. Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Boss uses one of the most tender graces to arouse our hearts— that of storytelling. She highlights twenty-five endangered animals by getting close to their habitats, flourishes, pains, and emotions. The accompanying illustrations of each animal by David G. Klein enhance the poetic visualizations.

The Lenten posture allows for the coexistence of grieving anticipation.  Boss describes that “the purpose of Lent has always been to startle us awake to the true state of our hearts and the world we’ve made. Which wakes an aching, wild hope that something new might be born of the ruin.” Therefore, this season within the liturgical calendar palpitates to the beat of life, birth, creation, death and calls us to witness all that it entails. Boss rouses wonder, lament, confession, and hope—that wild and living vision of the resurrection—as she brings us close to their homes and families. 

As Nicholas Wolterstorff describes the vulnerable quartet, Boss organizes the weeks by the threat the animals suffer as either the hunted, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, the poisoned. During Holy Week, she tells the stories of the desecrated, elevating the emotional tone as she describes the distressing and violent removal of the African elephant’s tusks. Gayle Boss reminds us in her lyrical and illustrative prose that these animals love, protect, grieve, cry, long, and play just like us. Maybe, not in the form or manner, but in the instinctual nature. Shortening the illusory chasm between animals and us, Boss underscores our kinship with the environment.

The Dance

Gayle Boss marvels at the unique behaviors of these animals, and the delight is contagious. I find myself chuckling at the ferret dance, synchronized tap of those black paws. I want to wave back at the semaphoring of the Panamanian Golden Frog. Overtaken by a desire to choreograph a dance with my husband, I would love to mimic the Lasman albatrosses and perfect the choreography during our lifetime. Boss guides you into love for these animals as she details their fascinating movements, quirks, and livelihoods.

The Pain

The stories also reveal the animals’ perils and make us aware of our complicit behaviors as humans. Instead of fostering and sharing a thriving ecosystem, as they do with us, we bring spores to their caves, destroy their habitats for Palm oil, traffick them, and fill their homes with our waste. Boss makes us aware of the olm’s tissue poisoned by toxic waste in their waters. She tells of the lowland tapirs “wrecked enamel” where “the scientist reads the story of a food chain broken at every link.” These stories divulge the reality of ruptured relationships between our neighbors and us. They unveil our tendency to disregard or forget our interdependence. 

The Resilience 

Gratefully the sequence of the stories mirrors that of the Lenten season. As the heart plunges into sickening waters or with the hacking of the machete for the ivory, Gayle Boss emerges with the entangling of scientists, conservationists, volunteers, and families that paid attention to the via Dolorosa of these creatures. Thus, the invitation is to participate and ride the wild hope that propels these people and many more to protect and care for the wildlife that does it mutually. 

As I read this book, I recalled how my classmates and I  coveted the Discovery Channel magazine for their rare animals’ photographs and profiles during my elementary school years. I would flip the pages to catch sight of a bright amphibian or a shimmering serpent. This practice dwindled through my middle school years and then vanished. But Gayle Boss’s narrations awakened that memory and the desire to return to marvel and mind the gap I’ve created between self and nature. Boss understands the intimate nature of stories, disclosing shared fears, desires, and feelings—to enliven us to relate. 

This book massages that atrophied muscle to reclaim once again the wild teachings of animals and the way they embody wild hope, which the Lent season carries us through and toward. Hope enfleshed stirs our hearts to care in and for the specific. Gayle Boss extends an invitation to intertwine our stories and commit to our interconnectedness. Through her testimonies and exemplars, she also invites us to witness their stories as photographers, writers, artists, biologists, people with a wild hope. 

Sara Sanchez-Timmer

Sara Sanchez-Timmer teaches English in Holland, MI, and tries to enjoy outdoor activities year-round.

One Comment

  • Travis West says:

    Beautifully said, Sara! Gayle Boss’s books are so important and inspiring. I also loved her earlier book on Advent, All Creation Waits.