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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

It’s for the Birds and Us Also! | March 19, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

I have been birdwatching lately. No, I have not gone on a safari or even stood in a field somewhere with binoculars. My relationships have been close up. Winged relatives have visited my dwelling place chirping and bringing hints of Spring.

Last week, on one of those very rainy days with gusts seemingly in charge, I saw a large black bird with a large twig in its beak. There was a brief lull, but the weather still had not cleared. I was thinking that it would be a good time to leave the office and head home. Instead, I became fixated on the blackbird that seemed a bit off its rocker. Why is it trying to build a nest in that swaying rain-soaked tree? Hadn’t its bird brain realized it needed a place to hunker down? A few days later, I realized that the bird knew exactly what it was doing. Were there new additions to the family on the way or were some new babies already a part of the family? The bird was doing what it was instinctively programmed to do. Animals often are far more attuned to the exigencies of life and the natural world than we are. It was led to build shelter, to find security, and protection when a storm of life was raging.

This is such an important lesson. We cannot hide when our lives are being plummeted by things and forces that could drive us insane. Too often we look to ourselves as the only one who can help us in times of trouble, who can save us, not realizing that we are connected to the network that birthed all of life and continues to hold us together. No, we are not independent. We cannot and must not attempt to solve our challenges by ourselves only. What a tragic mistake this is! We are interdependent and enmeshed in the web of life. Why don’t we know instinctively that security comes with resting in the infrastructure of life?

The Universe is not static, motionless, stationary, fixed. Rather it is dynamic, changing, evolving, engaging. We are in partnership with it, not isolated from it. We can call upon it and its agents, you and me, for strength, companionship, and wisdom sufficient for our needs. And when we give ourselves to the All Life, we give ourselves permission to accept the inexhaustible resources of Life. We expand. Indeed, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and all that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1) Are we not among those that dwell therein? The blackbird knew this instinctively. So often, we must learn it.

There are two additional bird stories on my heart to share.

Sharon VanSchuyver states:

Geese do not typically fly individually but tend to thrive in a flock or family. Geese fly in a V formation because it distributes the hardship of travel. The goose at the center point of the V has a greater challenge, as it meets the greatest wind resistance in flight; therefore, this position is rotated every few minutes so that the geese can fly long distances without rest.

What a beautiful and sensitive idea this is. Let us distribute the hardships and challenges so that we may journey long distances before we come to our rest. Sharing the load makes the load lighter for those out front and more vulnerable to resistance and challenges. It also encourages submerged leadership to become visible. This is communal flying and living with bountiful lessons.

The easiest position is at the rear of the V. The stronger geese, consequently, allow the young, weak or old birds to occupy these less arduous positions. If a goose becomes too tired or ill to continue, it is never left alone or abandoned.

I love this. The weak, elderly, young, and ill are never abandoned by family or community.

The bird will leave the flock, with the assistance of a healthier bird, and remain grounded until it can continue its flight. This social order greatly contributes to the survival and well-being of their flock. The “honking” of geese is believed to be the method of the strong encouraging the weaker birds to continue.

I never thought of “honking” as a method of the stronger birds to encourage weaker ones not to get weary, feel small, or suffer alone but to keep striving toward the collective goal with our dedicated support. Isn’t that our calling? Are we not to provide nutrition for the hungry and therefore malnourished, and take care of the sick, weak, and those on the edges of life? Are we not to support their being renewed, coming alive?

It appears that geese are real disciples of the one from Nazareth. They do not talk theologically about what it means to be a follower. They just do what is required of them. They learn that their personal efforts are multiplied yielding dividends, tangible and intangible, for the entire Goose community and its future.

Here’s the final bird story for today.

Adrienne Maree Brown writes in Emerging Strategy,

… birds don’t make a plan to migrate, raising resources to fund their way, packing for scarce times, mapping out their pit stops. They feel a call in their bodies and they must go, and they follow it, responding to each other, each bringing their adaptations.

There is an art to flocking: staying separate enough not to crowd each other, aligned enough to maintain a shared direction, and cohesive enough to always move towards each other. destiny is a calling that creates a beautiful journey.

Fellowship Church is like this journey. Many of us have come to this place being led by the feeling that we needed to connect with something beyond what was our world at the time. What that was, was not definitive. There was just some sense there was more to our lives than what we were experiencing. It was what Dr. Thurman calls a hunger of the heart for connection with a reality that we could not define. He talks about finding the scent of the other. Perhaps, we could say that it was a hunger of the heart for brothers and sisters that we had never met but we sensed were part of our family and journey.

Tagore helps when he observes:

We are like a stray line of a poem, which ever feels that it rhymes with another line and must find it, or miss its own fulfillment. This quest for the unattained is the great impulse in man which brings forth all his best creations. Man seems deeply to be aware of a separation at the root of his being; he cries to be led across it to a union, and somehow he knows that it is love which can lead him to a love which is final.

We are not sure of what we can become. We know however that life is calling us to be steady with what we are and from that steadiness to move more confidently into what life will call us to be. This is not anything to be undertaken superficially. Our legacy is one of an audacious group of people who dared challenge the racial, national, gender, cultural and religious barriers that separated and segregated people, agents of God.

We are witnessing Machiavellian measures being put forth to erase and exterminate people. We have a sacred commission to present another understanding of life and community. We were called into being to see if peopled from diverse walks of life could develop and sustain the type of religious community that would upend those barriers and reveal our essence as individuals and a community.

Dr. Thurman wrote:

The movement of the Spirit of God in the hearts of men often calls them to act against the spirit of their times or causes them to anticipate a spirit which is yet in the making. In a moment of dedication, they are given wisdom and courage to dare a deed that challenges and to kindle a hope that inspires.

Footprints of a Dream, Howard Thurman

Let us remember the insight from Adrienne Maree Brown that birds just go when they hear the call to migrate in their bodies. And if you hear us honking, know that we’re just saying lean on us, keep moving forward for we’ve got your back.

Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves.

– Tagore

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