Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Spectrum of Worship

The potential for worship occurs across a broad spectrum of life experiences. Humanity is created with a special ability to enjoy life and value life’s gifts. People are born with diverse interests and preferences. In the spiritual realm, the concept of worship revolves around recognizing worth and value in an entity outside ourselves. Most often the worship is focused upon a deity—God—but any object could be the recipient of worship if we recognize value and worthiness in the external entity.

Many people loosely use the term worship to express non-theological sentiments. For example, a young athlete could declare he “worships” soccer. He could also state he “worships” the coach who teaches him athletic skills and models values for his team members. Most often, worship connects with a theological concept. If we use the term in connection with living creatures such as birds, one reason may be that we recognize the handiwork of the Creator who ultimately originated the creative ideas for design and function of the wide variety of aves, (birds), a class of animals of the familiar phylum chordata. Therefore, if we humorously refer to “bird worshippers,” we realize many expand their worship to embrace the Creator of all things including birds.

Since moving to our small corner of northwest Illinois called the “Driftless area,” I have enthused about this region as “bird heaven.” Perhaps I was unable to devote enough time to avian observation activities in previous residences during my years of active employment prior to 2000. Since retirement, my definition of “worship” has expanded: it has broadened considerably. My theological concept of worship has broadened as well. Worship experiences may be described on a worship spectrum. Even though I do not claim to be an expert on birds, I shall use Driftless area birds to illustrate an expanded vision of worship.

The opening sentence in the current post used the term spectrum in a broad sense. Summer Driftless area birds display every color of the electromagnetic spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. We must not neglect to mention birds with black or white plumage. Even the cold, snowy midwest winter features startling reds from male cardinals and brilliant blues from a few lingering bluebirds who choose to remain behind in the harshest conditions of the polar vortex.

Spectrum is sometimes used to express a range between limits. The range of bird weights is from 0.1 to 0.2 ounces for hummingbirds to 0.5 ounces for indigo buntings to 20 ounces for crows and up to 20 pounds for tom turkeys. Habits of flight and preferences for habitat, nesting sites, unique behaviors, and food vary widely as do their many different vocalizations. A search of nature manuals tells the complete story. Birds are characterized by their startling differences as much as their similarities. As with all the uncounted millions of earth species, we may credit the Creator with a fascinating multitude of design concepts as he fulfilled his ideas for the class aves. We reverently credit the Creator of earth life with a sense of humor in executing his creation activities, particularly for the variety within hundreds of North American bird species.

During this spring and early summer 2014, we have easily observed dozens of bird species in our corner of the Driftless area. There are many more species seen less easily. Bear with me while I develop a case for personal “worship” to enlarge upon the more familiar corporate church worship. In all cases our personal worship recognizes the Creator as our ultimate object of worship. To support our proposal that God’s living handiwork sometimes manifests a sense of humor, we cite a few examples. Their entertaining antics are a gift for human observers to enjoy.

Cliff swallows make their annual appearance under a small culvert one mile from our home. As I approached to observe the temporary home of about 200 swallows inhabiting the small culvert, they all took wing in about one minute. While I examined the culvert with field glasses a few dozen feet away, the birds circled far overhead, possibly consuming a few insect meals. A few barn swallow relatives joined the scene from a nearby farm with their characteristic calls. Cliff swallow nest architecture is a marvel of engineering consisting of numerous closely spaced intricate mud structures adhering to the vertical culvert walls, each sporting a small opening for entrance and egress. It has been discovered that some birds take one of their own eggs and deposit it nearby in another bird’s nest, perhaps a model of the phenomenon of adoption from the world of nature!

Barn swallows visit our immediate neighborhood only infrequently but my last lawn mowing experience was occasioned by the deliberate circling of a single healthy barn swallow for fifteen minutes. Once he flew dangerously close to my head. Perhaps he was expressing gratitude for the tiny insects I disturbed as I mowed. We both benefitted from the temporary interaction on my lawn. The swallow received a meal. I received satisfaction associated with a sense of wonder at his adaptive ability.

We cannot forego one more opportunity to cite the behavior and appearance of one of the favorite birds of our neighborhood residents—the indigo bunting. The longest surviving indigo bunting achieved an age of eight years. I have been aware of unique indigo bunting behavior in our neighborhood since 2010 when I first noticed the attraction of one special dead branch in one particular walnut tree for one resident  male indigo bunting. Could it be the same bird migrating by memory year after year to the same walnut branch in Illinois from its winter home in Central America? Or could this be the manifestation of a genetic factor passed on to hatchling buntings of several years ago, aided by their recognition of visible dark sky constellations proven to aid these birds in their night migratory flight? One last observation relates to my noisy lawn mower passing under the bird. The shattering noise does not phase him. He seems to sing even louder. The male bird serenades while females raise their babies. Psalm 103 reports “birds of the air…sing among the branches” and “make their nests.” 

Resisting the temptation to extend the chronicle of our Driftless area bird behavior, I offer one more Driftless area bird for consideration—the wild turkey. We are plentifully supplied with these large avian occupiers. I have exchanged turkey stories with many local residents. Three hen turkeys recently shepherded their collective babies to our front porch. There they shook off dust on our porch they had accumulated from dust baths on our next-door neighbor’s property. They left behind four-toed imprints in the dust as if to leave a signature of their visit. The family group lingered in our flower bed mulch before moving on. Birds and humans often coexist with what seems to be mutual respect.

The psalmist David begins his descriptive exultations of the natural world in Psalms 103-104 with “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:1-2 NIV). The benefits of the wonders of life surrounding us include the supply of plentiful opportunities to worship the Creator.