One recent fall afternoon, I had the great fortune to walk along the shore of a quiet seaside town in mid-coast Maine. There were different types of boats and buoys in the quiet harbor. The impressive autumn foliage at water’s edge framed a remarkable panoramic view. The scene filled me with a profound sense of peace. I offered a prayer of thanksgiving to God for giving me this special moment. It relaxed my spirit.
And then I noticed three different sea birds at different spots in the water: a great egret, a common loon, and a sea gull. The great egret walked with its neck extended and wings held close. The common loon swallowed most of its prey underwater, where it was caught. The sea gull appeared resourceful yet indiscreet.
While the loon and the sea gull remained in the water, all of a sudden, the great egret took to the air… in slow flight, with its neck retracted. This is typical of herons and distinguishes them from storks and cranes that extend their necks in flight.
Recalling this egret’s flight reminds me of a story I read years ago. It focuses on three different winged creatures: a buzzard, an ordinary bat, and a bumblebee.
If you put a buzzard in a pen that is 6 feet by 8 feet and is entirely open at the top, the bird, in spite of its ability to fly, will be an absolute prisoner. The reason is that a buzzard always begins a flight from the ground with a run of 10 to 12 feet. Without space to run, as is its habit, it will not even attempt to fly, but will remain a prisoner for life in a small jail with no top.
The ordinary bat that flies around at night, a remarkable nimble creature in the air, cannot take off from a level place. If it is placed on the floor or flat ground, all it can do is shuffle about helplessly and, no doubt, painfully, until it reaches some slight elevation from which it can throw itself into the air. Then, all at once, it takes off like a flash.
A bumblebee, if dropped into an open tumbler, will remain there until it dies, unless it is taken out. It never sees the means of escape at the top, but persists in trying to find some way out through the sides near the bottom. It will seek a way where none exists, until it completely destroys itself.
Without planning to, we can take after the buzzard and imprison ourselves by never using God’s guidance to take flight in our life. He can unlock our jail cell and free us.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,
Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps faith forever;
Who executes justice for the oppressed; Who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. (Psalm 146:5-8)
Or unaware, maybe we behave like the bat, shuffling helplessly each day in great pain. With no means of raising ourselves above the hurdles we confront, we are tempted to give in to paralyzing thoughts and addictions, forgetting God is waiting nearby.
My enemies wonder in malice when I will die, and my name perish.
And when they come to see me, they utter empty words, while their hearts gather mischief; when they go out, they tell it abroad.
All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.
They think that a deadly thing has fastened on me, that I will not rise again from where I lie.
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted the heel against me.
But You, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them.
By this I know that You are pleased with me; because my enemy has not triumphed over me.
But You have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in Your presence forever. (Psalm 41:5-12)
Perhaps we mimic the bumblebee, unable to see any means of escape; we wear ourselves out as we unconsciously destroy ourselves completely. What prevents us from calling upon the Source of hope, joy, and life?
Blessed be the Lord, Who has not given us as prey to their teeth.
We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:6-8)
An important lesson we can remind our family and friends is that in life, we all struggle with problems and frustrations. When we resolve to overcome them, one at a time, we find, like the great egret I saw, that we can leave any predicament. We can choose to take off in a new direction, pulling in not our necks, but our thoughts and actions that imprison and cause us pain. However, we must be deliberate… we must look up and see… “Listen, you that are deaf; and you that are blind, look up and see!” (Isaiah 42:18) That’s the answer, the escape route and the solution to any problem – look up and seek God’s help and guidance.
[Photos taken by Fr. George Tsahakis]