This morning I sat alone on a large brick patio for my quiet time with God. As usual, this involved my Prayer Guide, a Bible and my journal.
I started my time in quiet. I closed my eyes and listened to the world, to the creation around me. I heard birds chirping, a slight breeze moving through leaves, the biting caw of a crow. As I listened more closely, I heard kids playing off in the distance and the sounds of cars driving. Listening is a holy experience, it’s a gift that I need to receive more often. It’s something I don’t practice nearly enough. To listen is a form of prayer and this morning I prayed the prayer of listening.
I opened my eyes and looked for the sources of those sounds. Two small birds chased each other around a tree to my left. A car drove across the road near the lake. I felt the breeze on my face. Thirty or so seagulls sat in the field in front of me. A few sauntered around pecking at the grass looking for food.
Following the Prayer Guide, I turned to Psalm 18 and began to read it out loud. I find that reading out loud engages my ears and my eyes in the practice. Lately, I’ve also found that it keeps the analyzing part of my brain from taking over and turning it into a filing and processing experience. Reading scripture out loud helps me to see, hear and feel the words in ways I tend to miss when I only read in my head.
As I was reading the Psalm, a seagull from the edge of the small flock walked uncertainly toward me. The bird approached slowly, cautiously. Looking at me while moving yet when I looked up at it, the bird would freeze. I named it “Bird” and said “Hello, bird.” Bird cocked its head and looked at me with one eye. I wondered if it named me “Person,” or “Food Source,” or “Interloper.”
Bird came closer and closer, pecking occasionally at the ground. At first, I was convinced Bird was simply hoping for a bite of something. That the possibility of a snack was stronger than fear of me, two hundred times its size. Then, about midway through the Psalm, Bird stopped maybe eight or nine feet in front of me and plopped down. As odd as it sounds, maybe Bird just wanted to hear some scripture. Either way, I seemed to have a new friend. When I looked down at my Bible, I occasionally felt that Bird would look at me. When I looked up, Bird was always looking away. “So it’s going to be like that.” I said. Bird said nothing. Because it’s a bird.
I finished the Psalm and sat in the quiet, letting the words soak into me. It opens with the words, “I love you, O Lord, my strength.” and for whatever reason those words struck strong this morning and sit as a gentle but necessary reminder today. I moved on to John 12 for the next reading. Just a few verses in, I heard an obnoxious wail from my right and Bird quickly flew-ran away. A new seagull powered in, screeching with wings threatening and outstretched and chased Bird away.
I named the new bird “Jerk” and had a brief and equally one-sided conversation with it. “What did you do that for?” “Bird wasn’t doing anything.” “You are obnoxious.” Jerk looked at me, seeming to size me up while strutting back and forth in front of me. Jerk was not interested in food or settling or in hearing John 12. After half a minute or so, Jerk gave me one last evil eye and flew off again, back in the direction it had come from.
I looked out toward the flock on the field, wondering or maybe even hoping Bird would come back, but I couldn’t distinguish Bird from the rest.
I finished the reading from John and sat again in silence, letting the words consume me.
At some point my mind went back to the two birds. There’s a part of me that longed for Bird to come back. There was something peaceful and content about those moments and that silly little relationship. There was also a part of me that resented Jerk for driving Bird off, for what seemed like no particular reason other than it could.
Then I realized I was sitting in the middle of a parable.
There are a lot of personalities out there. Some are easy to get along with and others are… less easy. Both are (always) worthy. Both are capable teachers and potential guides. Both have their needs and preferences and ways of being. All are created. All have been given life. All breathe. All are loved, are capable of love, and deserving of love.
Father, may I name fewer things. May I use fewer labels. May I learn to better listen to all that you have created and may I learn better how to be with those you send my way. Teach me to be with creation, with my fellow people, to see you in all of it and each of them.
There’s at least one more level to the parable, too. I’ve been both birds. I have probably been both birds today. Sitting quietly at the edge of a conversation that I find enlightening or engaging. Chasing something away so that I can take more of the center. Cautious and careful, slipping into a relationship that blesses. Abrupt and aggressive and missing out on the moment, losing the heart.
Father, thank you for all the facets of who we are, of who you’ve made us to be. Thank you for redeeming every bit of us and for working continually within us. Keep working. Keep showing me the places I still hold back. Keep showing me the ways I can give more of myself to you.