Tuesday, September 23, 2014

How Can I Keep From Singing?

A sermon by Cindy Haverkamp for Labor Day, August 31, 2014
School started for my family this week and the “labor” of a new school year has begun.  After a lovely summer of late risings and unscheduled days, we are back to the routine of getting up early, frantically packing lunches and gym uniforms and racing out the door, hoping to arrive close to on-time, 7:40 am.
Although mornings are hectic, the saving grace is that each and every day, I drive along Chambers Creek and through the picturesque town of Steilacoom, with its incredible view of sound and mountains.  Sometimes, Fiona and I pause in our conversation to notice a duck or a particular shine on the water or some snow on those mountains, but we never, ever stop that car because most days, we are on target to be between 10 and 15 minutes late, usually both ways - either on our way to school or on our way home to get Brenna from her afterschool care program.  Most days our drive to and from school feels more like a desperate escape from blood-thirsty demons than the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate God’s incredible gift of beauty shining placidly all around us.
The missed opportunity that I experience each and every day on my trip to and from school is especially vexing to me twice a year – in late fall, when frost bristles the tall grasses along the creek and the creek fills to the brim with waterbirds resting in their migratory travels and again, in spring, when that creek fills, once again, with bird families – mostly Canada geese moms and dad with their adorable yellow goslings.  You see, my most favorite hobby is birdwatching and the drive along Chambers Creek is a birdwatching wonderland that I, out of necessity, do not have the opportunity to enjoy as I rush to and fro.  Last fall, I felt so frustrated by this situation that I almost started taking I-5 to school!  No…just kidding…but I did write a lament expressing my consternation and now I will share it with you:
I Miss Birds
I know they’re there
Buffles, Widgeons, Mergansers...
Their round bodies bobbing gently
In the small pond beside the road

Peering through the guardrail
I catch
A flash of white
A flutter of gray
A flicker of black…or green…or purple

The identification of birds
Requires a stationary eye,
But I move quickly
Keeping my eyes upon the road.
For I am late (again) for something (important?)
I miss birds.
Is that a sin?
Now, the first time I showed this poem to my friends they said, “Of course that’s not a sin”, but they may have missed my meaning.  The poem suggests both that I really miss looking at birds, but also that I feel guilty for “missing” the birds when I am so focused on getting to and from school.  After all, these amazing creatures are only a small part of the incredible Creation that God has set before me and if I am so busy that I can’t even see this small example, how much more of this gift am I taking for granted?
Genesis 1:1-2:3 tells us that our existence on this planet, at this time – an existence of ripe peach, crisp apple, tall mountain, bright leaves, sparkling water, flickering flame and wondrous birds and animals – was created OUT OF NOTHINGNESS by GOD for US. This reality, both unspeakable gift and privilege, began with God’s joyful invitation, Let It Be!  With these words, day and night, land and sea, birds, beasts, YOU and ME as well as ALL we would need to thrive came into being – an artistic and creative expression of all that God called “Good”.
It was so good, in fact, that God set aside a FULL day to simply sit and enjoy it.  Can you imagine God’s smile?  Can you imagine the sense of peace and contentment God must have felt to see all the beauty and wonder of creation?  Imagine God’s gratitude in the sense of a job well done.  In the busy times we live in, in our constant striving for money or power, fame or security, how often do we simply sit and appreciate God’s amazing gift to us – the gift of being alive in such a beautiful place, at just the right time, with all the right people around us, a week’s worth of fruitful, satisfying work at our back?  I know that most weeks, spare moments, Sunday afternoons included, find me poring over papers to grade, unfinished to-do lists and dishes or laundry piled around me with nary a moment spent peering out the window or giving thanks for all that is good in my life.  And how does this make me feel?  Grumpy, guilty and ungrateful.  Does this happen to you?  Well, there is a solution and it takes its rules from the world of birdwatching – call it orni-theology, if you will!  If you follow along, I guarantee you will reawaken to the beauty and blessing that is God’s gift to you.
The first thing I must do if I wish to go birdwatching is to set aside a space and a time for it in my schedule.  Theologians suggest that before God could create this world,Godneeded to create a time and a space for it.  Some say God made himself smaller to make room, others say God created the universe within himself, and my favorite suggestion is that God created a “space” somewhere “out there” which God then filled with galaxies, inhabiting it like bird song fills a forest, like candlelight fills a dark room or like love fills a heart.  We, too, will need to set aside something – maybe something broken or dark or useless that inhabits our souls – to make room for the appreciation of beauty.  I know that I will need to set aside some extra time to see the birds on Chambers Creek.  I will strive this year to leave my home 10 minutes earlier so that, if there are birds in the creek, I can stop the car for a moment and enjoy them.  How will I get that 10 minutes?  Well, maybe I have to get up 10 minutes earlier or maybe I have to plan my outfit and my lunch before I go to bed to create that space for beauty.
Secondly, birdwatchers need to cultivate quiet.  A psalmist says that all created things speak or sing of the God who made them, but are we too busy making noise to hear them? In a 1997 poem, Wendell Berry says,
Best of any song
is bird song
in the quiet, but first
you must have the quiet.
I know, from birdwatching with kids, that birds come a lot closer if you are quiet and still.  Busy lives try to steal the quiet from us at every turn, but we have to have the quiet, or we will miss the beauty.   As this school year begins, I will try to hear the song of God’s creation by turning off the radio and the TV sometimes (especially the news!), opening the windows or going outside and creating some quiet.  
Thirdly, to remember all that is good – all that we’ve seen and heard in the space, time and quiet we’ve created – we must, like all good birdwatchers, update our life lists.  Genesis contains a list of all that God created.  Birdwatchers make lists of all the birds they’ve seen.  We must write down each instance of awe and wonder that we experience and review that list often to remind us of all that is good, to jog our memories, when we forget how good we have it.  The Gratitude Journal is an old idea that has been reborn, of late, in digital form, on facebook, and I encourage you to take up this idea in some form as soon as you can.  Maybe you keep your gratitude in a Mason jar on little slips of paper or maybe you buy a beautiful empty journal and fill it with three things each day that you are grateful for or maybe you type your gratitude onto facebook.  However you do it, intentionally making time, space, and quiet to see the beauty around you and then taking the time to reflect on it and write it down WILL gradually change your attitude about everything that is challenging or dissatisfying in your life, make you a happier person and giving you a concrete opportunity to thank God for all that you have.  
I have, in the past, kept a Gratitude Journal and it had a profound effect on my ability to appreciate God’s gift to me.  One of the many things I wrote in that journal was, “I am grateful for the herringbone pattern on the white feathers of the male mallard”.  It may seem oddly specific, but those feathers gave me such peace because I knew, by seeing this beauty for the sake of beauty, that our planet was truly made by a creative and incredible God who knitted together each and every beautiful and amazing creature, including me, and called it “Good”.  
Is it a sin for me to “miss birds”?  The answer is, emphatically, “Yes” in so many ways.  It is sinful for me to waste my precious life in a mode of “hurry and worry”, as God has commanded me to “Fear not”.  It is sinful for me to think that by driving a little faster, while texting or checking my email, that I can “control” all the minutia of my life, when the Bible tells me that God is in control and that I should trust in God’s plan.  And it is surely sinful that I pass up opportunities every single day to truly notice, with wonder and awe, the gift of God’s creation.
Genesis means beginnings.  At the beginning of this new season, in fact, with each and every new day, we are invited to stop for a moment and create a quiet time and space to remember God’s amazing gifts to us…to smell the rose, to peer through the binoculars and check out those mallard feathers, to really look into the eyes of those we are privileged to share this life with and say a little prayer of THANKS. We will all be glad we did…and so will God!

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