Photo: Scarlet Ibis at the Potawatomi Zoo, South Bend, IN.
Sometimes in this sabbatical year birds have come as surprising gifts of delight and wisdom.
The peacock in the snow at the corner of County Road 23.
The blue crested motmot or Bobo’s three glorious appearances that followed me around Costa Rica.
The rare King Vulture or Rey de Zopilotes, sited by our guide, Manuel, in wild Corcovado National Park. The indigenous people honor him as the king of birds, the one who eats death. And does this make him the bird of New Life, of Easter?
More commonly the resplendent quetzal has that honor, worshiped from Mayan times as the god of the air. I had hoped to get a glimpse of this glorious bird in Costa Rica. And as life and humility would have it, I only got to see the splendid back side of the female quetzal. Maybe like Moses only getting to see the back side of God. (Exodus 33:22)
So I paid close attention to the bird that "appeared" in my final week of sabbatical before I return to pastoral ministry.
My last Sunday away from Florence I was able to one more worship with Quakers in the South Bend Meeting. Silence settles around me deeply these days, and all the more so when sitting with “Friends.”
Hmmmm…after potluck, and since I was already in South Bend on a beautiful day, I decided to take myself to the Potawatomi Zoo. I had not visited for close to twenty years and the days when zoo time was shared with our toddlers. So it was a new joy to take in the animals and the light at my own pace and with my companion, the contemplative camera.
Of course there was the heartache of seeing the wild penned up.
But the majesty of the animals did not seem dim to me.
In the final building the BIRD came. Lit from behind, and held behind glass due to injury, was the Scarlet Ibis. It’s color and the red-orange light aura round its feathers was visually delicious.
I soon noted that the Scarlet Ibis was missing part of its left wing. The right was longer and tipped elegantly with black. But the left was stubby. And in the same way I keep checking the hole in my mouth when a tooth has gone missing, this bird shrugged and stretched and flapped its wings as it turned in the light, and then rested.
I remembered teaching a short story by James Hurst entitled “The Scarlet Ibis.” You can read it at this link.
And here is the quote that will let you know how I first “met” this bird in my twenties:
Suddenly from out in the yard came a strange croaking noise. Doodle stopped eating. "What's that?" He slipped out into the yard, and looked up into the bleeding tree. "It's a big red bird!"
Mama and Daddy came out. On the topmost branch perched a bird the size of a chicken, with scarlet feathers and long legs.
At that moment, the bird began to flutter. It tumbled down through the bleeding tree and landed at our feet with a thud. Its graceful neck jerked twice and then straightened out, and the bird was still. It lay on the earth like a broken vase of red flowers, and even death could not mar its beauty.
"What is it?" Doodle asked.
"It's a scarlet ibis," Daddy said.
Sadly, we all looked at the bird. How many miles had it traveled to die like this, in our yard, beneath the bleeding tree?
Doodle knelt beside the ibis. "I'm going to bury him."
So I pondered as I printed this photo. Why this bird, this Scarlet Ibis, this week?
I think it came as a warning for re-entry, just as it came as a warning to an over-bearing older brother in the short story. This brother learns, sadly, that life and healing and hope cannot be forced. And “aid” offered for the sake of ego and not in service of love is deadly.
These can be my temptations.
I have been give glorious gifts in the last two months!
and Scintillation -- life lived in the present and in bodily fullness.
This does not feel like great drama to preach about.
This does not seem like “the revolution of God.”
But for me, it is.
Yet I could be tempted to make it a "recipe" for the God Life.
Humbly, it will only glow with Life if it is allowed to BE…
...one lived moment, one listening moment, one active moment at a time.
It would be wonderful to have thirty years to keep pondering, and keep pivoting and testing my broken wings on the humble wisdom and glorious colors of these two months. Let's see what this week brings...