Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fluttering in the Valley

“I waited patiently upon the Lord; he stooped down and heard my cry.” Psalm 40:1

The other day I was talking to a parishioner when a movement caught my eye. I turned my head and looked over to see what it was, and I saw a small creature milling around on the sidewalk in front of the church in Virginia City. I walked over to get a better look and it was a moth!

Now, I use the exclamation point (which I tend to use too frequently, I’ll admit. I am not sure as many things call for a hands-to-the-face, Macaulay Culkin scream as I would indicate in my writings. Still …) Anyway, where was I? Ah, yes; I use the exclamation point because I don’t believe I have ever seen a moth wandering around the snow in January before. It really caught me off guard. Hence: (!).

As moths go, this one was fairly large (probably about 3.2 centimeters – I always use metric when describing nature, as it makes me look and feel much more scientific in recording my observations. I get more ooze and Oz that way); I wondered why she was outside and wandering about. Why wasn’t she inside where it is warm, or hibernating, or gone to where moths go when the air is frigid and the wind is howling?

Being dark and fuzzy (I presume it was Woolley MamMoth) she really stood out in stark relief on the snow-scape and would be easy pickings for the local magpies and moth-eating critters in town. Perhaps she had given up on life and was looking for a swift end to it all, or …

… maybe she was on a rescue mission. Maybe she was looking for food to bring back to the nest (or wherever moths live) to feed her young. Maybe she was looking for her kids – like a good MOTHer would.

Ultimately, I cannot know what she was doing or why she was there. What I do know is that I was surprised to see her, and she was exposed to whatever dangers the elements and nature hold in store for moths; what is true for her is probably true for us.

We may feel more sheltered and protected from the elements, what with our homes and clothes in which we bundle up, steady food supplies, clean water sources, a “mostly” dependable electrical power grid (and the genuinely hard workers who keep it going, day and night through the stormy blasts), but are we? It’s only a matter of degrees.

It’s true; I don’t worry about birds plucking me from out of the air. With cell phones and modern means of communication, I don’t misplace my children nearly as often as I might have years ago – for which I am quite thankful.

However, life is still mostly uncertain. We live in a world where one can go to school, to the movies, or to the grocery store and be shot in a random act of violence. One can be driving home, obeying all the rules of the road and get blown off by a roguish gust of wind. One can eat and drink all the right things and suffer a stroke or heart attack, or develop an illness for which there is no hope or cure.

The world we live in isn’t as far removed as from that of the moth when one thinks about it. If there is a difference, it is simply a matter of degrees, not of kind.

And yet, can we learn something from the moth? Yes, I believe we can. The moth does not worry; it is not filled with anxiety (as best we can tell). If hungry, it seeks food. If thirsty, it seeks moisture; if cold it seeks shelter; if in danger, it seeks escape. Are our lives really any different from that?

The difference I see is one the psalmist points out. Unlike the moth, we have a God who hears – Like Horton, the elephant who heard the Who. God rescues us from the mire, sets our feet upon steady ground, and keeps us forever safe in his love and compassion. God is the Flame which draws THIS moth, and that keeps my heart a-fluttering in this, our valley.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A New Year in the Valley

“Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity …” Book of Common Prayer

I was driving through town the other day on my way to an appointment and saw a number of deer standing around a junk strewn yard. They appeared to be on high alert, and as I scanned the lot I saw the reason; they were staring at a dog that was, like them, standing still and staring back at them.

I slowed down but, as I was expected elsewhere, chose not to stop. As I drove past, though, one deer began to take tentative steps toward the dog and I wondered how the encounter would resolve itself. I wish I had stopped and watched, as nature fascinates me, but I am something of a slave to time and duty.

I don’t know where I got that “need” to be on time, all the time. I joke that the folks at the National Observatory call me daily for the correct time with which to set the nation’s Atomic Clock, but that’s not far from the truth in terms of my personality.

I don’t like to be late to anything – social OR official. For me, early is on time, on time is late, and late is not an option.

I became aware, once again, of just how chained to time I am when a few days after the Deer and Junkyard Dog Affair I was driving across the bridge over the Madison River and saw another small herd of deer gathered on the ice-gorge beside the flowing river. They appeared to be debating whether or not to leap across the waterway to the other side. I was on the bridge so, again, I couldn’t stop to watch to see what they would do.

But I wondered. I wondered what goes through the mind of a deer when they come to a place where they have to decide: Jump or don’t jump?

Jumping seems so natural to them. That same day I watched a herd of the local mulies heading toward town from Upper Ennis and, one-by-one, each came to a fence and leapt over it effortlessly. I was amused by their decision to leap the fence rather than shift their trail the seven feet it would have taken to go through a gate that was standing wide open.

Not being a leaper, I would have used the gate. I would have examined my choices and weighed my options, and I would have chosen the easier, softer way – for that’s what people do, isn’t it? Perhaps deer operate under the same instinct. When it is time to head down to the creek for a drink, they head on down the path they have always used, and to choose a different avenue doesn’t even cross their mind; after all, it works!

I would like to think that humans, with our larger brains and our capacity to use reason and logic in our every-day living, would make better decisions on a daily basis, but for this human, that is a VERY tall order.

My guess is that if I had stopped for a minute to watch the dog-deer encounter, that the person I was going to see would not only have not been upset at my being 60 seconds late, but would have enjoyed the tale I would have shared of what had slowed me up! Instinctively, I drove on; thinking it out, I might have made a different decision.

I can’t regret the decision I made, but thinking about it – reflecting on it – I believe I would make a different decision today if the opportunity were to repeat itself. I do not believe we have to be slaves to our habits. We can choose to change them if we so wish.

What does it take to change? Not much; just enough pain to make the change worth the effort.

Pain? Yes, pain. It pained me to pass up not one, but two great opportunities to watch the local deer to see how they face dangers or make decisions. I want to learn, but to do so requires me to exchange one good habit for another (possibly) better habit.

Oh deer; as much as it pains me, maybe it is time for a change in this, our valley.