For as long as I can remember, I have loved birds. When I was growing up, the grandmother of my best friend had a Myna bird. While I can’t remember his name, we were delighted to hear him talk as he freely roamed the house. I also was blessed to have a pet canary and later a paraquet. If we pay attention, birds of all kinds continually surround us whatever ecological zone we happen to find ourselves within.
Years ago while living alongside a lake in Upstate New York, I encountered the Loon for the first time. It is a spectacular bird, not only because of its behavior, but particularly due to its call. I don’t know whether to say the call of the Loon is melancholy, mysterious, mystic or haunting, but it does capture one’s full attention and I find its call to be magnificent. I miss hearing the call of the Loon here in the Rocky Mountains.
While living back east, one day I walked into a store and displayed on the wall was a clock. I immediately bought it because every hour on the hour, recorded sounds of a variety of Loon calls are played. Just hearing the clock sound brings back a flood of memories of gazing across calm lakes watching Loons dive for their prey.
A few days ago I noticed something seemed different as I sat at my desk. It took me a while to figure it out, but I soon realized I no longer heard the sound of Loons coming from the clock. I had forgotten to change the battery and it had stopped.
As I took out the old battery and put in the new, I was reminded of an important truth. If we want something to be an active, enriching part of our lives, we have to not only pay attention, but to be attentive. The Loon clock only keeps sounding on the hour if I care for it. The same, of course, is true of our relationships with others.
People are the source of what it most important in life. And so I have spent some time thinking not about what battery I need to replace in a clock, but what relationships that make me who I am may need a charge and some attention. I invite you to join me in pondering whose voices you miss hearing in life. Give them a call and recharge what has been.
Walking alongside of people in the midst of joys and horrendous tragedies are markers of what it means to be a pastor. In the midst of such experiences, over the years, a variety of events stand out for me as transforming and life changing. The memory of one has come flooding back into my mind the last few days, along with tears and a hurting heart.
In my last parish and Diocese, I along with others came to know a seven year old girl named Flor and her mother Rosa. We got to know them through mission work. Due to profound poverty and oppression, Flor’s case of Rickets was one of the worst US physicians had ever witnessed. Through hard work, fundraising, governmental paperwork, and prayer, Rosa and her mother were brought to the US to the community of which I was a part.
Surgeons and medical care providers along with a major medical center donated services and completed rounds of excruciatingly painful corrective surgery to treat Flor’s deformities. It was agonizing not only for Flor, but for her mother and those of us who cared for them. But through God’s grace and amazing human beings, Flor was healed.
After a year or so, Rosa asked if I would baptize Flor. In one of the most moving and Spirit filled services, I had the astonishing privilege of baptizing Flor by the side of a gorgeous lake. It was at that moment I was reminded that we are all children of God, are bearers of the Holy, and that love is the only standard by which we should conduct ourselves whenever we are in the presence of another human being. Flor and Rosa taught me what love means and that what God cares most about is love as God is love (1 John 4).
A variety of Central and South American theologians and clergy have understood this truth. Here is what a few of them have said.
The eternal destiny of human beings will be measured by how much or how little solidarity we have displayed with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the oppressed. In the end we will be judged in terms of love. Leonardo Boff (Brazil).
Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Gustavo Gutierrez. (Peru).
A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that? Oscar Romero (El Salvador)
It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor,of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel,of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, “You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.” It is to say exactly the opposite, “You are valuable.” Oscar Romero (El Salvador)
And so, to Flor and her mother Rosa along with all others from stricken El Salvador, I say, “You are valuable to me and you have taught me much about love and what it means to follow Jesus.”
So goes chapter 1, verse 1, of the Book of Genesis. What follows these four words is a description of what God did in 8 creative acts over a period of 6 days. It is a magnificent description of God creating the earth and everything within it out of nothing. This part of the Book of Genesis is a profound theological statement of how all things began in an orderly manner. As we enter the New Year, I believe we are invited by God to spend time pondering, praying about, and turning to our creative God. More on this in a moment.
I think it is important to remember that the beginning verses of Genesis are theological and never were intended by the writers to be an exact scientific description of creation. If we allow them to, however, science and theology, in fact, work in tandem when it comes to the creation story. God is the creator and science has helped to fill in a few of the blanks as to how God’s creative process unfolded over time. As I see things, science helps us with the “what” and faith based theology leads us to “why.” But regardless of the timeline of the “what”, it is God who started it all, God who oversees it all, and God who created order out of chaos.
“In the beginning God.” As I reflect upon these words, it strikes me that they may serve as the basis of empowering mantras with which to live each day. These words, if we allow them to, help to refocus our attention and enable us to live lives grounded upon our creator. What if throughout the course of each day we were to prayerfully say things to ourselves like the following?
“As I begin this day, God…. As I prepare for work today, God… As I think about how to approach this problem today, God… Before I go to this meeting, God… As I dial this number to have this conversation, God… When all the possibilities of how this might go enter my mind, God… As this transition unfolds, God… When I have to say goodbye, God… With this new…God…”
How we complete each of these statements and others like them is for each of us to work out with the help of God. As our creator, I believe God invites us to intentionally turn to God with all new beginnings from the small to the large. To focus upon him when something different is about to unfold or we are uncertain how to approach a person, situation, or relationship.
God never intended for God’s creation to be separate from God, nor does God ever want us to try and live each day and move through the challenges in front of us without God. Instead, God wants us to remember that God is there at the beginning of all things, in the midst of all things, and at the conclusion of all things.
“In the beginning, God…” Indeed these are some of the most encouraging words to be found anywhere and remind me of what God said to Joshua just before he led the Israelites into the Promised Land. God said to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Because Joshua remembered that God was with him as he began the journey across the Jordan River, Joshua had the strength and determination to bring about a new era for humankind.