Here is another blog from Fr. Jay. I relate to this story as I needed necessary distractions to help me complete many of my seminary paper requirements. Enjoy his perspective as it may relate to your journey this Lent. Fr. David +
For me, writing papers in seminary could be tough. I'll be the first to admit that the product might be less than riveting. I had to do something to hold interest of others (and myself), something to bring a lighter touch. Thanks be to God, early in my program, I found a book in the library called "Bird Walk Through the Bible", a compilation of all the times birds are mentioned in the Bible. It turns out, there are a lot of them. I made a commitment, throughout my seminary years to include some reference to this book in every single paper I wrote. It gave me odd pleasure to include that title in every bibliography. It was sometimes a challenge, a stretch, but it was all influenced by the wisdom of G.K.Chesterton who said that angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.
So I was particularly interested in a lecture I heard last week, given by a remarkable artist named Grainger McKoy. He spends his life carving sculptures of birds in flight. These are large pieces, amazing acts of craftsmanship and attentiveness, involving years of effort. He is a person of faith, so his art becomes an offering of worship in celebration of the creator.
He spoke about one large piece he made, an amazing flock of interconnected birds, tangentially connected so that the sculpture seems to defy gravity as it soars toward the ceiling, causing the viewer to look up. Maybe that's why God created birds in the first place.
As he was creating this highly detailed, impeccably crafted work, a well meaning person told the artist that he could relax on crafting the bird at the top. No one on ground level would see how well that part of the work was done. That advice came from someone who said: "After all, only God will be able to see that bird." Grainger noted that was precisely the reason he would be more precise, more careful in his efforts. He devoted extra focus to that bird that only the Holy One could see.
I want to live my life that way
Not a life lived under the scrutiny of a divine Santa, making a list and checking it twice, finding out who has been naughty or nice. Rather a life lived in gratitude for a God who knows me better than myself. A life lived before a loving, liberating, life-giving God. (Read Psalm 139:1-10)
Lent is a season that invites us to think about our spiritual journey, our spiritual practices. Why do we do them? And for whom? A reading for Ash Wednesday (Read Matthew 6) invited readers to practice their religion in private, not so other people will think about how great they are, but making that practice an offering that maybe only God can see. It makes me mindful of how much of my life, including my religious observance, aims for the approval of folks around me. Newsflash: people-pleasing clergy are particularly susceptible to this.
It has been helpful to me to remember the wisdom of Soren Kierkegaard who offered this description of worship. He said that the liturgy is a drama. The clergy and the musicians are prompters. The members of the congregation are the actors. God is the audience. As someone privileged to lead worship, I often picture the congregation as my audience. My ego is stroked by compliments on a sermon. My ego is bruised when at the door, someone comments on my sermon, saying something like "Nice talk" or "Good try" (both of which have happened). What would it mean for me to let all of life be worship, with God as the audience, knowing that there are parts of my life that only God can see.
This week, the birds of the air, especially Grainger's sculpture, teach me to focus more on living life as an offering to God, and less on the good impression I might make to others (or myself). I'm grateful for that lesson from the birds.
- Jay Sidebotham