Faith Works 9-5-15
Soaring in the spirit, and in fact
Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles...
~ Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)
A week ago Friday your "Faith Works" columnist was invited to join some community leaders in a paddle down the Licking River, an advance event for the River Round Up on Sept. 12th, where many communities and sponsors come together to clean up trash and junk in our county's primary watercourse, under the guidance of the Licking County Soil & Water Conservation District and program administrator Denise Natoli Brooks.
After Mayor Jeff Hall sent us off with some good words (he's done the paddle before but couldn't join us that day), a couple dozen of us got into canoes and kayaks and began the journey from Little Texas to Brownsville Road. Just after the first quarter of the seven miles of river we covered, the giant basket building swung into view around a curve, but that was the only man-made structure we saw other than passing under historic Stadden's Bridge (the location is historically significant for Licking County, if not that particular structure).
And then a few curves further on, a black figure in the sky making vast lazy arcs began to come lower, low enough to see the sun filter through the tail feathers of this soaring bird.
That's right, we saw not only great blue herons and little green herons and kingfishers and cliff swallows and robins, we saw a pair of bald eagles. There was something magical about the light through those iridescent feathers spread out behind the broad reach of wings, a hint of sparkle and shadow in the midst of the white, and the steadily shifting play of blue gaps in the ragged ends on the black broad reach of the wings.
As they spiraled down, you could more clearly see the white head and golden beak of these majestic creatures. They were indeed soaring, barely moving their wings, just slightly turning their outmost feathers to steer along the currents of air rising off of the river valley we paddled down.
One did perch on a sycamore branch where we could see the proud profile, but he was spotted behind us, and I was up front in a canoe where my twisting around to get a shot up and reverse from our direction might have led to the wrong sort of rotation, and a subsequent unintentional immersion.
But it was the sight of them far overhead that stirred me, and a reminder of what we'd heard at my church on Sunday about the remarkable summer many of our youth had, at camps and conferences, and with our denomination's general meeting held in July at the Columbus Convention Center. The General Assembly had a theme and an ongoing message from Isaiah 40, shared in the programs, through the worship, with the mission work that went on in between everything else, and during the fellowship we shared. "Soar on wings like eagles," says the Lord through Isaiah. "Soar" was the theme, and it had unexpected resonances picked up by all the plenary speakers and at many other program events as well. We all talked about what "Soar" meant in that wonderful Isaiah passage: Don't spend too much time flapping or flailing or struggling to take off all on your own effort. Let the currents and created order carry you sometimes, because that may well be part of the plan. Get the view from above.
To "soar" is to be carried, as the old favorite "Footprints" story says. To soar is to fly high above some of our everyday distractions, to see more clearly, and yet to not be stressed or anxious or exerting yourself unnecessarily. Soar, with the eagles, with God, who has promised to give us that wind we need to be lifted up.
As Christians, as a church, as a community, let us prayerfully soar.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him where you've been inspired by mighty wings overhead at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.