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About 15 years ago, I had a stint of homelessness as a result of some bad things I’d done (not on purpose, but still bad). God punishes his children just as he punishes everyone else. Actually, he punishes his children more, because they should know better. We’re supposed to set a good example.
Being homeless, I spent a lot of time outdoors that year, and being outdoors, I saw a lot of things I hadn’t seen before. One of those things was a murmuration of starlings that took place at a local ballpark in the town where I was living at the time.
I’d gone to the park to catch the last of the day’s rays. It was late September, and the evenings were starting to get chilly. Warm sunshine was becoming a precious commodity again, as it did every fall when the threat of a Canadian winter hit home.
There was no-one at the ballpark except me and some guy who was staring at his phone. I was sitting at the top of the bleachers, eyes closed and face uptilted to the sun. It was one of my favourite perches and one of my favourite pastimes. I found the warmth deeply soothing. Every now and then, I’d open my eyes to see where the sun was in relation to the horizon, to gauge how much more warmth was left in the day.
As I did that, by and by I started to notice birds flocking far off in the distance. I couldn’t tell what kind of birds they were, but I could see them moving towards me, following the long curved line of the railway tracks. They would swoop in from all directions and perch on the power lines next to the tracks, gathering at what looked like muster points. The smaller flocks would wait for the larger flock to fly in from the previous muster point and then join forces with it, the larger flock growing larger and larger and closer and closer with each additional flock. By the time the combined flock – tens of thousands strong – was close enough for me to see they were starlings, the show had already begun.
I had never seen a murmuration live before. I’d certainly never been in the midst of one. As I sat bolt upright on my bleacher seat, eyes wide open, the birds did their famous swooping ballet over my head. What struck me, besides the almost deafening rustling of their wings and the rushing whirlwind they created by their movements as they dipped and swooped in unison around the park, was the sheer joy they were expressing in their synchronized dance. You could tell they were having a blast doing what they were doing, and I can imagine they’d waited all day for this (the younger birds excitedly asking the older ones: “Is it time yet? Is it time yet?”). This was clearly the highlight of their day and they were giving it all they had. They put their whole heart and soul into it.
At some point, I glanced over at the guy with the phone and saw that he was as awestruck as I was by what was taking place over our heads. We sat in silence, our mouths hanging open and our heads shaking back and forth, not knowing what to say. But no words were needed. I was crying without realizing I was crying.
Finally, God gave the signal, and the lead birds headed off to a grove of trees next to the ballpark. The other birds followed behind them, separating into smaller and smaller flocks as they settled onto their chosen branches across dozens of giant stately pines. There was a brief fluttering of settling and resettling, and then the birds grew quiet. They were tuckered out by their performance. The sun had set. Now was time for sleep.
God’s hand was all over that show. He was directing the birds as much as he was guiding and energizing them. It was his Spirit that filled them with such obvious elation as they swooped and dipped and climbed higher and higher, only to swoop and dip some more. It was his Spirit that filled me and the phone guy with such awe. It was his Spirit that made me cry.
I will never forget the great gift of being part of the murmuration. The phone guy and I were not just watching it; we were part of it. The birds came close enough to us that we could have reached out and touched them, but none of them so much as brushed a wing against our cheeks. They acknowledged our presence and invited us to share in their joy. We swooped and dipped and climbed higher and higher with them in Spirit.
And if we make it to Heaven, we’ll be out there flying with them not only in Spirit, but in reality.
(“Is it time yet? Is it time yet?!!”)