During Lent (2016) I’m looking through decades of pictures I’ve taken, choosing one image for each of the forty days in the season, and writing a brief reflection. This photo has always been a favorite, both because of the subject, and how I found the fawn.

We had about two acres surrounding our small New York State cape home in Ithaca. Some of the yard was lawn, some woods, and some (for lack of a better term) field. The previous owners of the property had let some of the grass grow wild, and we saw no reason to change it. Being just a couple of parcels up from Cayuga Lake, and having a land preserve next door, we enjoyed our share of wildlife: foxes, turkeys, deer, woodchucks, and rabbits.

One early summer, when the wild grasses had grown into their greenest glory, I saw from the back deck this fawn. It was hiding, with its mother nowhere near. I carefully, but quickly, went into the house for my 35mm SLR, added a long lens, and went back into the yard, fully expecting that the deer had flfawn edit.jpged. But it was still there.

I took a couple of pictures from a distance, but began to move closer for a better shot. I was ready for the critter to dart, but it merely stood up and looked at me. It seemed curious. I moved closer, cautiously, and took this photograph.

Then, I spoke gently. “Where’s your mama?” The fawn’s ears flinched. I asked again, “Where’s your mama?” Ears perked up. It was as if the word “mama” was somehow registering. I knew that couldn’t be, but the third time I said it, the fawn stood up, as if I might have word about where mama was. Click. Another photo.

Then, the deer began to move toward me from out of the grass. I was surprised at that, but also disappointed, since she was moving too close to be in range of the telephoto lens. I was beginning to think the fawn might come right up to me, and it was heading in that direction…until it got a whiff of me and quickly bounded past me into the woods.

My best guess is that this very young animal was as curious about me as I was about her. And maybe even the sound of my voice (and the word mama?) added a new sensation for her. All was well until something wasn’t well. Human odor equaled natural danger. Instinct trumped innocence.

I realize that “innocence” is an odd choice of topics when relating to an animal in the wild. But look at that face. Those wide eyes and perked up ears! Bambi. So I saw “innocence.” The dictionary definition includes the words “uncorrupted,” “harmless,” and “unfamiliar with something specified.” (That something would have been me in this case!) So, yes, the fawn is innocent enough. Other words such as “naïve” and “trusting” would apply too, at least until human and deer got close enough to smell each other.

However, more broadly, human innocence has other meanings: guiltless, sinless, blameless. And childlike. No way can a deer or a beaver or a seagull sin. Or be guilty. Yes, we can “blame” a seagull for a disgusting deposit from sky to shoulder as we walk the shore, but the gull didn’t break any moral law. Any more than an infant’s crying for mother’s milk is a sin.

I know that if I were to post a photo portraying human innocence, it would have to be a portrait of a baby. So pure. Trusting. Lovable. Or, someone way on the other end of the age spectrum, an elderly adult so vulnerable, unaffected, and frankly too incompetent to make wrong choices. As for the rest of us? Innocence escapes us.

No wonder Jesus said we must become like a child to enter the realm of God. A very young child at that.

I don’t argue for the concept of “original sin.” I blame grown-up free will. And willing the wrong things so freely. I certainly identify with the Apostle Paul’s confession: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans 7:15)

During Lent, maybe Paul will join us in singing, “O Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy on us.” Only mercy will redeem us.

Too bad I don’t have a picture of a lamb.