On Saturday, although we headed out in one direction to look for Glossy Ibises, a Facebook report of a Northern Lapwing in the other direction got us in for a longer drive (thank goodness for mobile social media technology). As with many a rare bird search, a vigil was involved. Since my wife had the foresight to squirrel away a book, she and my daughter went back to the car while I remained outstanding in my field, er, I mean, remained standing out in a field. After 90 minutes of waiting, she texted me that she was ready to leave, so I reluctantly left the other birders with a wish for them that I was “the Jonah” so that by “tossing me overboard” they might have luck with the bird. When I reached the parking lot she informed me that she had forgotten that she had turned the key to get power to lower a window and left it on. The battery was now dead. So AAA was called and we had another wait on our hands. I told her that I wouldn’t want to find out later that the bird showed up while I was standing nearby in the parking lot, so I would do my waiting in the field. Another quick check of Facebook on my phone confirmed my longshot hope, indeed the bird was being seen at that moment. I simply had to walk up to the birders and have them point me and my spotting scope in the right direction. This beautiful, if silly, bird (it had wandered far from its home across the Atlantic!) put on a nice show and provided a nice “tick” on my year list. Remarkably, it was not also a tick on my life list, nor even on my state list, for I had seen one in Massachusetts in November of last year. And it is that sighting coupled with this experience that led my wife to conclude that this species is nothing but bad luck.
Back in November when we arrived at the field containing that Lapwing (frankly, it could well have been the same bird), the birders were standing in a forlorn line along the edge. They told me that although none of them had seen it, the report was that it was in the field just out of sight. The reason was that the there was a slight rise in the middle of the field. So I asked why no one had yet climbed one of the trees that lined the field to get a better vantage point. They looked at me like I was crazy…now remember that these are birders, so my suggestion was too silly for this crazy bunch! Well, I scampered right up the tree (if it had been rocks, it would have been easier than a V0 bouldering problem) and immediately caught sight of the bird on the far side of the field. This led to a migration of now happy birders in order to get a look. It also led, eventually, to a rather nasty case of poison ivy for me and my entire family as one of the hand holds on my ascent was a vine of the plant that up until this point I had not been allergic to.
So two strikes were enough for my wife to see the sign and draw the conclusion, thankfully with her tongue in her cheek. It is easy enough to understand how superstitions are birthed when this sort of thing happens. If this story were repeated enough times to enough people, Northern Lapwings could become seen as evil omens. The scripture for this past week at Darkwood Brew was the fourth day of Creation on which God created the sun and the moon for signs and seasons. For eons, humanity has looked to the skies for signs, making meaning from what the seasons bring. But just like a run of bad luck was not caused by the arrival of a particular bird species, the stars and planets neither control nor predict our individual fates. If there is any validity to be found in astrology, I believe it is in the unraveling of the mystery of the connectedness that exists in the universe. In other words, the meaning already exists it doesn’t come from the movement of the heavens. It is tempting to find causation where it doesn’t exist and to make meaning that fits our understanding, but we are better served by observing carefully and finding our connection what surrounds us. When events occur together like seeing a rare bird and getting poison ivy, there is a connection if not a cause. And that connection helps to make meaning, which may not always be the same as time goes on. It may be a story of the cost of adventure. It may be a story about the balance between pain and joy. It may be a story about foolishness and caution.
That is the gift that the creation story gives us. Out of chaos God brings order and that order reflects the harmony that is in God’s nature. The harmonious nature of the celestial dance of sun, stars and moon is like the dance between the persons of the Godhead, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in traditional language. Harmony cannot be found in imbalance and is not static. Harmony is alive, vibrant, even a bit wild. When we try to force meaning on to signs and seasons instead of finding our connection as a way to make meaning we miss the gift God offers through this marvelous, harmonious creation.
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