I am still processing the act of nature I witnessed in my back yard yesterday when a hawk
decided to drop in and have what I now believe was one of our many wild rabbits for dinner. In fact just looking at this image still gives me chills even though I didn’t witness the actual attack.
When I heard on the news today that this is the 6-month anniversary of the beginning of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine I could not help drawing the comparison to what the hawk in my backyard did to what the hawk in Moscow has been doing to Ukraine for half a year.
It is way to easy to be distracted by all the political foolishness in our own backyards and forget the war crimes and senseless violence the Russians are inflicting on our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. But it is a great disservice to the hawk I saw yesterday at my house to compare it to Putin. The hawk here was doing what hawks do naturally to survive. That’s what raptors do. But there is no natural or just reason for what Putin continues to do to Ukraine.
Cleaning up the remains of my hawk’s dinner was disgusting, but what is happening in Ukraine turns my stomach even more. Are we humans no better than that? Christ have mercy!
My mind, per usual, has been focused on macro and micro events in the world around me – a teachers’ strike, global warming, my own physical and mental health. And then I looked out in our back yard a few minutes ago and saw a very large bird which I mistook for a chicken at first. When said bird heard me wondering out loud what it was doing in my yard it took off before I could get my phone out to snap a picture.
When the bird took to flight it became very obvious it was no chicken. It was some kind of hawk. My birding skills are not developed to the point that I could tell you what kind of hawk, but it was big. Not 3 minutes later I noticed a tiny hummingbird darting back and forth drinking from our feeder designed for just that purpose.
In those few moments I was struck by the mystery and magnificence of creation. One of the tiniest birds and one of the largest, at least in our part of the world, right there almost simultaneously in the small part of God’s universe we are privileged to call home.
And then I decided to walk out into the yard to see what the hawk had been doing. From what I had observed I thought he or she had been feasting on some other unfortunate critter. I was hoping it was one of the mice, chipmunks, or moles that are a nuisance to us. But what I found in the grass were the very gross remains of some much larger animal or bird. There was not enough left to identify what had been alive a few minutes before without DNA analysis.
I’m not sure what to make of all that. It struck me as a rather profound example of the cycle of life and how fragile and temporary our being here really is. I feel like I witnessed something messy and yet sacred and beautiful. And yes I will prepare and consume the steak I am grilling tonight with a renewed appreciation for one of God’s critters who gave his life so I can partake of his body in that mysterious chain of life.
Holy One, it’s just another ordinary day. My calendar is clear but my to-do list is long and getting more so every day. How do I rejoice and be glad in this day you have made? On Sunday we were reminded in a sermon on the book of Esther that we are made “for such a time as this?” (4:14) If I read those words in context I see that Esther is being called to engage in civil disobedience by confronting her husband the king. She is a biblical profile in courage and I admire her greatly for that. But as I read just two verses later I am not so bold any more. Esther says, “I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”
How do I translate Esther’s call to my ordinary life and day? What am I created for in this time and place where our way of life is threatened by calls for civil war; where autocratic political leaders in Russia, China, Turkey, and our own nation continue to threaten our peace; where experts warn us of more brutal heat, fires, draught, and floods that will become the norm unless we take drastic measures to save our planet?
O Holy Parent, those macro measures make my puny to-do list look like someone rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Am I called to fiddle with daily chores while Rome burns? I know that “for everything there is a season,” (Eccl. 3:1) but sometimes I wonder how mowing the grass or taking out the trash fits into your purpose for my life. Yes, Lord, I know things are usually both/and, but where is the holy balance point between doing justice and doing the dishes?
At a young age Jesus had to tell his parents that he was called to be about your business. I don’t have a Messiah complex, but I answered my call to ministry many years ago. The pastoral duties I had structured my days for many years, but now in my retirement what does that call look like? I can rejoice in having a clear day on my calendar, but I know my biological clock is ticking; and every morning I wrestle with what I am supposed to write in that blank space to be a “good and faithful servant” in this final stage of my life. My spirit is willing, maybe, but my flesh not so much. I know I will never “retire” from your claim on my life, but I could use some guidance on how to live this ordinary Tuesday. I’ll be busy doing my chores, but please feel free to interrupt me with a text or a burning bush or whatever it takes to get my attention. Amen
“Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:18)
The recent pandemic has reinforced our knowledge that it is not good for humans to be alone. Our daughter-in-law is a very strong and self-aware introvert. Several months into the pandemic she joked that even a committed introvert like herself had to admit that she was missing human contact. Far more seriously we know that the hiatus from play dates and school has had serious mental health consequences on many children and youth who are behind in their social development and their ability to communicate in ways that are not mediated by technology.
Yes, it is true that technology has helped bridge the human contact gap in significant ways with virtual learning and digital meeting apps like zoom, but anyone who has spent much time using those tools will tell you that kind of meeting or teaching and learning is just not as good as face to face contact.
I was reminded of a wonderful movie that explored the theme of human loneliness when I found this golf ball in my bag last week. I led a men’s retreat several years ago where we watched the 2000 Tom Hanks film, “Cast Away” and then explored what the movie said about the human experience.
In that movie Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a harried FedEx executive, who is cast away as the lone survivor of a company cargo plane crash in the Pacific. The good news is he survived the crash. The bad news is he is washed ashore on a small deserted island where he is totally and completely alone. He manages to survive for years by creatively making use of a few items in packages that wash ashore from the plane crash.
One of the seemingly most useless items that floats into Noland’s island home is a brand new Wilson volleyball. No net, just the ball, and while beach volleyball is a real sport, it does require more than one person. That ball however soon becomes the most important factor in helping Noland maintain his sanity as multiple attempts to sail off the island in makeshift boats end in disaster and even a suicide attempt fails.
Noland discovers a way to meet the need for “human” contact without internet, cell phone, smoke signals, or even written communication. He turns the Wilson volleyball into Wilson, his friend and companion. He paints a face on the volleyball and regularly talks to Wilson about his plight. In the most poignant scene when Noland finally manages to push and paddle beyond the breakers and put out to sea on a makeshift sailboat, his buddy Wilson is washed overboard by a large wave and slowly drifts further and further away. Noland can only cry plaintively, “Wilson! Wilson!” as his faithful friend disappears from his sight.
Our men’s retreat was held at a church camp, and one of the men found a Wilson volleyball in a closet in the lodge where we were meeting. That ball, of course, became our mascot for the weekend, sitting with us as we discussed the film, coming to meals with us, and sleeping on one of the bunks in the dormitory-style room where we slept.
Now I have my own Wilson Jr. golf ball sitting on my desk to remind me again that it is not good to be alone. (And, it helps our bond that I played some very good golf with my Wilson, and he didn’t desert me like so many balls have by disappearing into the woods or splashing down into a water hazard.). Please understand, as an introvert I still regularly need and enjoy solitude. Zoom does make many things easier or even possible, like book clubs, meetings over distances without time-consuming and expensive travel, and especially regular contacts with distant friends.
But nothing, not even a lovable volleyball, can meet our basic need for human contact. My therapist says touch is the first and most basic form of human communication. Research has shown that infants who receive an adequate amount of loving touch not only thrive, but those who are not held and touched literally die.
We can see this phenomenon in other species, many of whom mate for life. Unfortunately many Americans have lost sight of the need for meaningful human contact. Our myth of rugged individualism has turned far too many of our human interactions into a transactional, self-centered dance of using people for our own profit and benefit.
Our consumer driven economy and our fear of an always uncertain future have convinced too many of us that we can never have enough material wealth to feel secure. Perhaps the silver lining in our current inflationary anxiety is that we will learn like Chuck Noland did to be satisfied and live with what we have. Powerful story telling like “Cast Away” is a way of teaching us those life lessons vicariously so we don’t have to actually be stranded on a desert island or isolated in a pandemic to learn them.