Saturday, August 11, 2007

Considering the Birds of the Air and the Lilies of the Field

The familiar wet meadow is coming into its late summer glory these days and yesterday I took some time to examine at it through binoculars. Without binoculars it looks like a haze of muted colors, purples and yellows mostly, set against the drying grass. But through them the scene is brought close in detail and the mauve Joe-Pye weed, royal purple ironweed, and bright yellow goldenrods and grey-headed coneflowers stand out in sharp relief. As do the numerous Monarch, black-swallowtail and silver-spotted skipper butterflies that feed on these flowers's nectar. Completing the scene was the multitude of barn swallows and tree-swallows zipping around me out over the meadow and up and down the creek. The insect flight must have been excellent and these birds that struggled to find food in early spring are now fattening up for the soon-to-come fall migration.

While watching the meadow plants and the swallows I was reminded of the directives Jesus gave to those listening to him on at least one occasion. "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them." and "See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." God was pointedly referring to his care for people and His Creation as he spoke these words, and yet there are a couple of additional underlying truths that linger beneath the surface. I do not attempt to speak for God nor to alter what He meant when he spoke these sentences, but I can almost not help drawing further applications from them. I do not think He would mind.

In Jesus' day, as in ours, fields that were left fallow filled in with vegetation that naturally grew in sites that were right for them. If the field Jesus was looking at was a wet meadow, it grew wet meadow plants. If it were a dry meadow, it grew dry meadow plants. A diverse plant community grew up in concert with the provided conditions and it was the whole of the community that met the needs of the individuals found there. Jesus did not exhort his listeners to look at the myriad pollinators or the seed disperal methods of the various plants, but it was this activity that perpetuated the plant populations in the landscape. The reality was that though the lilies of the field may have looked as though they had been planted and tended by God's direct hand, they were actually thriving because they were living in a spot that was just right for them. Just like those meadow plants I noticed on yesterday's walk.

And in Jesus day, as in ours, those birds that God fed were found in the places that most suitably met their needs for food. Swallows hunted insects over fields and wet places, fruit eating birds would have been found where berries were abundant, raptors would have been found where there were rodents and birds to be profitably hunted. God set the world in motion to feed and sustain each of the individual members by the collective functioning of the various ecosystems that comprised the earth. His provision for His creatures was built into the very workings of Creation.

At one of the churches my husband and I attend there is an offeratory that is sung to the tune of All Through the Night. It is a beautiful, haunting piece in that I almost feel like we are singing about what used to be, especially as we sing the last line. I worry that because of the harm that our human quest for change has wrought, the earth will no longer be the fruitful and abundant home it was intended to be

For the Fruit of All Creation
For the fruit of all Creation, thanks be to God
For these gifts to every nation, thanks be to God
For the plowing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping
Future needs in earth's safe-keeping, thanks be to God.

On the other hand, I know that when the earth is protected and cared for, it responds with health and provision, once again filled with the promise of life for all who depend upon it. Visits to the nearby meadow remind me anew of the land's abundant potential and of the opportunity we still have to take care of that which has been entrusted to us since time began. With God's help and by his mercy and grace, we still have time to relearn how to "tend the garden". The lilies of the field and the birds of the air are not the only ones who depend upon our choices. We humans do as well.

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