It is 5:57AM. It’s still too dark outside to see very well. But the window next to me is cracked, and in the quiet of the morning house I can hear a familiar hum. A male hummingbird is making his first visit of the morning.
They are late this year. Usually they show up at my parents' house in North Carolina in early April, and then about 10 days after that arrive here. I put the feeder up last Saturday figuring they had to be here soon. Many years I’ll see them at the feeder within an hour, but this year it took two more days for the first bird to show up.
The first birds are very cautious. They come in the half-light, feeding quickly and tentatively. They will make several trips in before the sun rises, but when it does they will disappear until returning at dusk.
If you want to feed hummingbirds, it’s easy. The best place to get a feeder around here is WalMart. I like the round ones because they are easier to clean without sharp angles. I also like feeders that aren’t too big, holding maybe a pint of nectar. In season, when the yard is full of hummers and they are draining the feeders at a furious rate, I’ll use bigger ones. But now they don’t drink that much, and after about a week the leftover nectar will go bad. For what it’s worth, I also like feeders that have the yellow-flowerd ports and a ring on which the hummers can land. The cost should be about four dollars.
For nectar, don’t buy the red-dyed stuff at the store. You don’t need it, and it’s not good for the birds. Just mix four parts water to one part sugar in a pot and boil for one or two minutes. During the summer I make a couple gallons of nectar at a time and freeze the extra. At this time of year, in order to better attract birds, help them refuel after their long journey (which some will continue), and put weight back on them for breeding season, I make the nectar stronger—only 3 parts water per 1 part sugar. That seems to work well.
There are a few more things to consider which I’ll write about at another point, but that should get you started. Enjoy!
Sea-monsters, wild beasts, and creeping things. All deeps and mountains. Fire and hail, snow and fog, tempestuous winds. No mention of horses, but I think they are included in the Big Idea, the Grand Theme of Sunday’s Psalm. I had a blast reading it, letting the words roll off my tongue, thinking about these great creatures and powerful natural forces.
They (whoever “they” are) say that church these days is often geared towards women. But I kinda think this was a “guy’s Psalm”. Or maybe even a “boy’s Psalm”. I mean, I just appreciate any chance I get to talk about things like sea monsters and, well, fire!
The point of the Psalm is that all these things live in harmony with the purposes for which they were created and so “praise the Lord.”
We often think of “praising the Lord”, or worship, as something we do in church. But this Psalm suggests that praising God has at least as much to do with how we live our everyday lives out in the world. Interesting, isn’t it?
So, like the flowers blooming around us, the birds filling the air with their songs, and the tadpoles abundantly populating the ponds of spring, let us live in harmony with our Creator.
One way to do this is by saying a simple prayer like, “Lord, what would you have me do today?” And then be mindful of his leading.
“Lord, what would you have me do?” It’s a great way of recognizing what a gift each and every day is, and of seeking to give to others (whether it’s time, attention, affection, encouragement, a listening ear, hospitality, graciousness in traffic—whatever!) as generously as God has given to us.
If you are young, you’ve probably grown tired of hearing an older person go on and on about their physical problems. “OK,” you may have thought, “that’s really more than I want to know.” Or perhaps, “Enough already! Can we please talk about something else?”
But I can almost guarantee you the day will come where you, too, will be discussing your physical ailments. It’s not that there aren’t other things to talk about. There are. But it is that the experience of our bodies no longer functioning like they once did has a way of grabbing our attention. Part of it is we know things are only going to get worse, and the talk is a way of allaying the anxiety.
Have I told you about my knees? They are killing me these days. And it’s not even when I’m doing anything strenuous. It’s just when I’m walking. In fact, I don’t have to be doing anything at all. They ache when I’m sitting. Heck, they ache right now and I just got out of bed! I’d love to tell you more about how much they ache but I’m still at a point where I can exercise a little self control on this subject and cut myself off. In a few more years, who knows?
Our bodies are one of the surest reminders that this world will not last. It is passing away even now. We are passing away. The aches and pains that we all experience are just part of our present physical bodies, that once were so glorious, wearing out.
What does last?
That’s the question, isn’t it? That’s where the wise person will focus their time, energy, and attention…
Did you know that that the sun's rays are as strong now as they are in August? Of course, the temperatures and the humidity are a little different.
The bugs are a little different too. I think maybe they should have a bug scale. Along with the temperature and the humidity, maybe they should have an Insect Index. Something like, "the mosquito count for today will be approximately 100 per backyard." Or, "you can expect to have three gnats in your eye per hour outside today." However they might measure it, the counts right now weould still be delightfully low.
All of us this means that in Northern Virginia, at least, this is likely to be one of the nicest days of the year. In othe words, shut down the computer. Be free! Turn off the cell phone. Declare war against the obsessive behavior that FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) produces, and which keeps us from ever really being present in the present.
What a gift the season of spring is. So much beauty out there. Time to go enjoy it!
Be brave, and then be strong You'll not go wrong if you are right Keep your chin up tight Be brave, and then be strong
Be brave, and then be strong You'll not go wrong with special might You will reach the site So be brave and then be strong
It's interesting how something we haven't heard since childhood, that we haven't even thought of for decades, will suddenly pop back up into our consciousness. I woke up this morning singing this song to myself. At first I didn't even know I was doing it; it was just part of the "heavy attentional clutter" that clouds my mind if I don't tend to it.
But then all of a sudden the words registered as I also remembered Mr. Rogers singing it. And perhaps the most interesting thing is that these are the words I needed this morning. When a person walks by faith, there will come times when the next step they need to take seems like a step off a cliff into thin air.
That's where I was when I woke up this morning. I looked in the mirror and asked myself, "Are you CRAZY?" And then the words to that song...
(St. Matt's folks--anticipating how some might take this, no I am not going anywhere. There are still plenty of great, big, audacious challenges for us right where we are!)
If today doesn't qualify as an absolutely perfect day, I don't know what does. Bright sun, cool air, deep blue sky without a single cloud in it. Looks like we're not the only enjoying ones enjoying it!
So here’s what we’ve established so far: Sheep have a lot to worry about and be afraid of. But they don’t worry. They aren’t afraid. And that’s because they have a Shepherd who has a vast reservoir of knowledge and experience that the sheep do not. The sheep trust the shepherd; they move in step with his guidance. Despite the harsh terrain, the perils at hand to those lacking knowledge, and the ever present predators, they find ample provision, rest, and security.
In giving us this image, Psalm 23 asks us to consider accepting the guidance of the Shepherd as well. Christians believe this Shepherd is Jesus, and that he has a vast reservoir of knowledge and experience that we simply do not have. We are confident in his ability to show us the way.
It isn't that our world is without peril or danger. It is not. It isn't that we don't have our own vulnerabilities. We do. But it is that we trust Jesus to guide us through them, taking great comfort in his presence. We trust him to walk with us every step of the way.
Some people don’t think they need a guide, but I’ve never found that to be the case. Perhaps the following story illustrates why.
A few years ago I went fishing up in Erie, PA. Because I don’t get to go fishing very often these days, and because it’s such a long drive, I wanted to maximize my chances at success. I hired a guide by the name of Jim Jankovic.
We started that morning at a place where a large creek runs into Lake Erie. The fish tend to stack up here by the hundreds. So do the fisherman. Even so, there will be days where hardly anyone is catching anything, and the fish just seem to have lockjaw. This was one of those days.
There were people everywhere, standing shoulder to shoulder in some places, but the fish weren’t cooperating. We hadn’t seen even the first one caught. Jim asked, “You want to have a little fun?”
“Sure,” I said. I’m always up for fun.
There was a space between a couple guys where I could squeeze in without being too obnoxious. Jim told me to go stand there and follow his directions.
He gave me a fly and told me to tie it on. I did.
Next he told me to just let it drop in the water in front of me. “You don’t even have to cast,” he said. “There’s a big fish right there by the rocks.” Though this seemed a little farfetched, I figured what the heck. I couldn’t do any worse than anyone else was doing. So I did.
Jim then told me exactly how to work the fly. I did what he said and WHAM! Immediately the fish right in front of us hit that fly like a freight train. A few minutes later I landed it, a 9 pound trout with a beautiful pink stripe down its side.
The guy next to us looked at us in unbelief. “What are you using?” he asked.
“A wooly bugger,” I replied.
“Dang!” he said. Well, he didn’t actually say that, but we’re making this story church friendly. “Dang! That’s what I’ve been using for three days and haven’t even had a bite!”
Now there are lots of people who say they don’t need a guide. But these are often the same people who say there aren’t any fish, that they aren’t biting, that the conditions are off.
But Jim knows better. He has a vast reservoir of knowledge and experience that comes from fishing those streams since he was a kid. And those who allow themselves to benefit from his wisdom discover that no matter what anybody else says, there is no lack of fish. There are more than enough.
Last week was another tough week. Yet again we found ourselves feeling rattled, threatened, and unsure of what our future holds. Yet again, we were given even more reasons to be even more anxious. Tough weeks have become far too common these days, haven’t they?
It was particularly striking, then, to see the images of stillness and calm found in reading the Twenty-third Psalm on Sunday. Those images are in such bold contrast to the images we saw over and over again in the media. And who of us doesn’t feel like we could use a little more stillness and calm in their life? Personally, I found myself deeply invested in learning more about how the Psalmist cultivated this inner peace.
To do so, I think we need to begin where the writer of the Psalm begins: The Lord is my Shepherd, he says, I shall not want. An even better translation might be, The Lord is my Shepherd, I do not lack.
I do not lack.
When I do not lack, I do not fear. If I lack nothing, then there is nothing to be afraid of or worry about. It seems so simple. The reality, however, is that it is anything but.
That’s because our culture sends us a very different message. It tells me that I am lacking all kinds of things; I’m not handsome, thin, fit, smart, successful, athletic, rich, funny, safe, [you fill in the blank] enough. The focus falls on what I don’t have. I spend my life driven, and driven hard, by what I think I need to get.
And what I lack, I must fear. It threatens me and my personal sense well being with an enhanced feeling of danger.
If I don’t get what I lack, the story goes, I’ll never be happy. I’ll never be loved. I’ll never be secure. In fact, there is now a term for this: FOMO. FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out; the fear of missing out on the life with think we should have, that we deserve, or the life we think that others have, and that we should have too. In the face of these threats, we become anxious and worried.
It’s interesting that threats are also very present in the Twenty-third Psalm as well. The sheep have great vulnerabilities. They live in a harsh environment. Will they find food? If water is moving too fast, their wool will become saturated. It will weigh them down and they’ll drown. Where will they find drink? Everywhere around them are predators looking to prey upon them. Where will they find safety?
And yet they are not afraid. Anxious. Fearful. Why?
Because the sheep have a shepherd. And the Shepherd knows what they need, where it can be found, how to keep them safe and secure.