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From the Goldfields: Birds

Mission in the 21st century requires a lot of watching and listening, a keen eye and a good ear.

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From the Goldfields: Birds

by The Reverend Elizabeth J Smith | Senior Mission Priest, Parish of The Goldfields

You catch the sudden movement out of the corner of your eye. A flash of wings, a quick hop from branch to branch.

A scuttling in the undergrowth. They call, riotous at sunrise, more subdued in the heat of a summer day. A hawk or eagle circles lazily overhead. Crows flap, sleek and black across the sky, calling in that harsh, creaky, complaining tone. Pigeon wings clatter on take-off. Galahs waddle in groups on the ground, decorate power lines, or populate a wattle tree whose seeds have just ripened.

The birds’ songs punctuate the landscape with melodious warbles, digital-sound-alike beeps and pips, screechy chatter, plaintive wails and friendly chirps. I find them easier to hear than to see, especially the tiny birds, the colour of bark and leaves, who keep their distance.
Some people who walk in the bushland park substitute music channelled through their ear-buds for the random soundscape of the birds. It’s a pity, I think. Whether your musical taste runs to Bach, heavy metal or disco, the birds are the living voices of the bush, and even the silences between their calls are engaging.

Perhaps you have smiled as you watched a small child in a park or by the beach, chasing and trying to catch a pigeon, duck or seagull, and always failing. We know that the chase is futile and the capture will never happen, but the child firmly believes it’s possible. Wisdom teaches us that birds are out of our reach, and out of our class. They are for watching, listening to and marvelling at, but not for holding. Caged birds make us sad, however tunefully they may sing in their captivity.

Wisdom also teaches that God is not for grabbing. The Holy Spirit swoops and soars out of our reach, though not beyond our vision and our wonderment. The dove is a familiar Biblical image for the Spirit. Sitting still and waiting quietly are more effective strategies for getting close to that Dove than racing around hoping to grasp a tail-feather. It’s not the Spirit who needs to be tamed in order for us to see the sheen of heaven on those wings; it’s we who need to settle so that heaven can draw near and look us in the eye; we who must unplug our pre-set playlists of religious expectations, so that the voice of the Spirit can reach our opened ears and delight us with something new.

Mission in the 21st century requires a lot of watching and listening, a keen eye and a good ear, for the places where the Spirit is nesting, foraging, singing her songs of hope and love. The Holy Spirit loves the Church, and often sings among us, but our buildings and our gatherings can never contain her. My mission task is to see whom the Spirit is beguiling, beyond my little Anglican community; to listen for echoes of the tunes she is teaching to those who have ears to hear.

Published in Messenger, September 2019.

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