Spiritual Warfare Lessons in “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”

Author’s Note: I admit it. I miss my college days. The papers exploring ideas; the journal entries connecting life to classwork; the late nights filled with coffee and laughter. I want to do something a little different here… call it a fusion piece. I want to look at literature and see if I can examine it under the microscope of theology, in this case spiritual warfare. Yes, it will be wild, crazy, and zany. Go ahead and check out at this point. I fully understand! =)

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In the mid-70s, Chuck Jones, creator of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies for Warner Brothers studios, created an animated short TV show based on Rudyard Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi.” A high level summary of the show would be: Mongoose nearly drowns. Family finds mongoose and nurses it back to health. Mongoose expresses gratitude by taking out some nasty snakes, including main characters Nag and Nagaina (cobras), their eggs before hatching, and somewhere in the middle a deadly dust snake.

As a child, I loved watching Rikki-Tikki dart around exploring. The mongoose family motto of “Run and find out” became a subconscious battle cry for a curious, intelligent girl. I remember how Rikki-Tikki’s eyes got red and he snapped to attention in the presence of an enemy. I remember fearing for the life of the young boy. I hated Darzee’s instant presumption that Rikki-Tikki would never survive in the dark tunnel with the enemy cobra. I remember the thrill when Rikki-Tikki emerged triumphant.

My own kids now watch that show. I can hear their squeals of delight thunder through the house. They cheer on Rikki-Tikki and boo for Nag and Nagaina.

Older and more experienced, I see it differently.

I have learned that there is an unseen world of angels and demons. We don’t see them, but they see us. We can be affected by what they do, just as our righteous prayer or weak moment of sin can affect them. We need to admit they exist and can affect the seen world; as we do this, we need to remember that they can do no permanent harm if we are in the center of God’s will.

In watching “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” I see an extra layer. I see the spiritual warfare lessons, and this is what I see.

Lesson 1: When the storms of life nearly drown you, accept help from more sound brothers and sisters.

In the opening scene, Rikki-Tikki is half-dead, nearly drowned by a sudden deluge. He is found by a young boy and his family. They dry him and clean him. He begins to revive. As he revives, he can choose to bolt or he can choose to stay and get food and water. Obviously, he stays or we wouldn’t have a TV show (or the story on which the TV show is based).

As Christians, we need to analyze our lives to determine if we’re being drowned by life’s storms of unemployment or dealing with children’s issues at school or a health crisis. Once we ask for help, we have to graciously receive that help, whether it’s financial or emotional or spiritual.

Lesson 2: Just or unjust, in warfare, the young are hit the hardest.

At the beginning, the tailor bird family tells Rikki-Tikki that a baby fell out of the nest. Nag had a snack, and the fledgling is no more. Toward the end, Rikki-Tikki goes for the cobra eggs. In each case, the enemy sought to cut off a fighter by ending the family line.

We should pray daily for our children; we should also pray for those children that have no one to pray for them. More than that, we should look to be able to offer an encouraging word at the right time or provide a meal or ride in a crunch. We should know the children of our neighbors as well as we do our own. Instead of scrolling past the post from a parent about a child’s bad day or medical issue, take a moment to stop and pray.

Lesson 3: Help comes from the most unusual places.

At the beginning, when Rikki-Tikki is running to find out where his garden needed some effort, he encounters Chuchundra, the musk rat. Chuchundra is a scared, anxious, pitiful creature. Yet, in a moment of clarity, he hears the cobra trying to enter the house and points it out to Rikki-Tikki.

Toward the end, Darzee’s wife, a grieving mother, choose to find the courage to serve as a decoy for Nagaina. She diverted the cobra’s attention long enough for Rikki-Tikki to destroy part of the cobra’s clutch of eggs.

In both of these cases, the unusual yet ordinary served a purpose and provided assistance at the right time. Our still, small Voice so often provides help in His time through unusual earthen vessels.

Lesson 4: Because sometimes the enemy appears without warning, preparation and attention are key.

Karait was a snakeling. The story never indicates whether he’s a cobra or some other venomous beastly creature. It does indicate that Karait has a bite as dangerous as a cobra’s, and he was instantly ready. Rikki-Tikki had to ready even more quickly; without vigilance, Teddy the boy would have been dead.

We too need to be both ready and vigilant. Our enemy prowls about looking for opportunities to steal, kill, and destroy. He is also deceitful, making himself mesmerizing and pleasing in an attempt to lull us into complacency. We need to stay attentive to our still, small Voice. We have some powerful weapons in our arsenal: truth; righteousness; faith; salvation; and the Words inspired by our still, small Voice. When properly applied, these weapons strike a powerful blow. If we don’t have them, it’s difficult to succeed in battle.

Lesson 5: There will always be naysayers prattling about gloom and doom.

When Rikki-Tikki went down the hole to tackle Nagaina in her den, Darzee’s wife immediate wanted to sing a funeral dirge eulogizing Rikki-Tikki for all time in the garden.

Don’t get me wrong; there are times when, as Mercedes Lackey stated, “Glorious destinies result in glorious funerals.” However, Darzee’s wife gave up too soon, prematurely assuming there was no hope.

We must surround ourselves with positive, pragmatic people who will both encourage us with truth and wait for the right time to bring constructive criticism into our minds. When another seems to be sliding backwards into old lifestyles and choices, we must not assume there’s no hope and that’s the way things will always be. We must be friendly and prepared to offer both encouragement and correction in the proper proportions and timing. We must pray without ceasing and love without conditions.

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