Friday, March 5, 2010

Sunrise Signs and Wonders

Yesterday’s warmth and sun brought more sandhill cranes back to the Platte valley. I went up to the river this morning looking for cranes, and I found them!

My other experiences of crane-watching have involved groups of people as well as flocks of birds. The places where it’s easy for me to park a car and walk to a place with a good view are, of course, the same places that work well for others, and most March mornings there are several people, both local folks and bird watchers from other places, sharing the experience.

This morning, though, I was the only person at the viewing area I visited. Maybe word of the cranes’ return hasn’t spread yet, or maybe the remnants of winter are keeping people indoors. It was above freezing, but still chilly, at sunrise today, and the paths to the river were icy and still snow-covered in places. With little traffic on the nearby road, I could listen to the cranes and to other welcome sounds – water flowing where a channel has opened up in the frozen river, a red-winged blackbird, the occasional honk of geese. The cranes’ sound crescendos dramatically when a group rises up from their roosting spots on the river to fly off to spend a day feeding and dancing in the fields. As I stood near the river with lots of birds around and no people, the river and fields and sky seemed very big. At the same time, the curve of the river with the cranes flying in arcs overhead gave a sense of the curve of the Earth, a roundness that brought a feeling of comfortable enclosure despite the space, a sense of home and security, a sense of God’s love and care for all of creation.

Sometimes the signs and wonders God gives us simply appear in our everyday lives, as the burning bush did to Moses; sometimes they come to us when we intentionally put ourselves someplace where we know we are likely to see something that evokes wonder, as I did in going up to the river at sunrise. The two situations aren’t really that different, though, as both depend on our being curious enough and open enough to recognize signs and wonders when they appear.

People in central Nebraska are welcome to join us at St. Stephen’s in Grand Island at 10:30 this Sunday as we celebrate and give thanks for the signs and wonders that come to us in the crane migration.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Robins, Cranes: Signs and Wonders

Here in central Nebraska we woke up to more snow today. After some significant thawing and melting of the snow pack that has been around since December, the ground is once again covered in white. Yesterday afternoon, though, the freezing fog that gave me the discouraging thought on my drive to church that perhaps we need to write a new hymn called “In the bleak late winter…” lifted, and there was enough sunlight through the thin clouds to finish melting the snow in the center of our yard.

I’d been disappointed not to see any sandhill cranes on my foggy trip to Grand Island in the morning; I’ve yet to see any this year, though I’ve heard that there are indeed some already here. Spotting the first cranes of the season is a sign of hope, a reminder that spring is nearly here. There is also great hope, a sense of constancy, in seeing that this migration, which has been part of springtime here for millions of years, continues. This week’s weather, once we get past this snowy day, is supposed to be warmer and sunnier, just the sort of weather that will bring large flocks of cranes back to the Platte Valley.

After that disappointment, it was a wonderful surprise to glance out our kitchen window in the afternoon and see our small yard filled with robins. I leave leaf litter on the garden over the winter to enrich the soil in the spring. More than twenty robins were in our yard sorting through the leaf litter for something to eat and splashing in the puddles from the melting snow. This wasn’t the sign of spring and hope that I had thought I might see yesterday, but it was all the better for being an unexpected gift.

The Sustainable Faith forum in Omaha on Saturday was a good event, with lots of conversation about the relationship between faith and environmental concerns, and about how we in the faith community can best engage these issues. Toward the beginning of our time together, we watched a short animated film called “Wake Up, Freak Out, then Get a Grip” that does a good job of explaining how and why the tipping point for climate change is approaching faster than scientists had originally thought. The film explains the positive feedback loops that accelerate the process of climate change, but also ends with “the good news”, a reminder that it isn’t yet too late to make changes that will keep us from reaching the tipping point.

Wake Up, Freak Out - then Get a Grip from Leo Murray on Vimeo.

Next Sunday, March 7, St. Stephen’s in Grand Island will be celebrating the crane migration at our 10:30 Eucharist. One of our lectionary texts for Sunday is Exodus 3: 1-15 , Moses and the burning bush. Moses notices the burning bush and takes the time for a closer look; when he does so, God speaks. Moses’ sense of wonder made him open to hearing God. For some people, the crane migration is nothing special; they don’t see why people get excited about these birds coming through each year and eating the corn that’s left in the fields. Others see the arrival of the cranes as a sign of spring, a sign of hope, or a sign of constancy. When we open our eyes to the wonders in the world around us, we open ourselves to the signs of both despair and hope around us and learn how to respond faithfully to what we see.