I was away for over a week and missed two episodes of Darkwood Brew, so I’ve been catching up since I got home. Watching the episode with Bruce Epperly I certainly enjoyed all the talk about the playfulness of the creatures of the sea, and especially the air. The reason I was away was to compete in the 30th World Series of Birding. It is an annual game that I play, first scouting all week to find where the birds are then flying around the state of New Jersey on Saturday trying to observe as many of them as possible in 24 hours. It may sound more bizarre than fun to most people, but then hardcore birders who love Big Days are not most people. I had lots of fun visiting beautiful sites both familiar and new to me. I thrilled at finding birds both rare and beautiful. I enjoyed the company of birders both known for years and newly introduced.
I work hard for this fun, long days of chasing birds (too often frustrated by their absence) and nights of too little sleep. But in the midst of the effort there are sometimes sublime moments to appreciate. I had one last week when I watched a swallow play with a feather. The feather was at least the size of the swallow. It would drop it in flight then swoop back to snatch it midair as it fell. Again and again, the bird repeated the game. Swallows are known for this behavior and I have seen it before. Much as I try to avoid anthropomorphizing animals, it is hard not to imagine that this behavior is done primarily for the fun of it. Even if it is practice for the hard work of catching a meal of flying insects, it does appear to be fun and I can imagine enjoying the work much as I was enjoying the “work” of scouting for the World Series of Birding.
Not surprisingly, one of my favorite passages of scripture is Jesus telling us to behold the birds of the air. Eugene Peterson’s translation of that passage encourages us to be like the birds as they are “carefree in the care of God.” What a splendid expression. How much more play might we find in our lives if we would first accept and truly believe that we are in God’s care and are free to be carefree?
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Brimfield, MA He blogs about the intersection of spirituality and society at CultureDove.blogspot.com and the intersection of spirituality and ornithology at https://birdparables.blogspot.com