I love to watch goldfinches in flight, their bright yellow bodies punctuated with black and white make waves in the air. Their motion is not unlike the butterfly stroke that I could never get right when I was on swim team in college. One grand wave of wings or arms and then there is that arrow movement where the body is streamlined to flow through the air and water and fall forward. The goldfinches rise with the flap of their wings quickly and then fall slowly in a long arc until they flap their wings again. In a way, I think of this time of pandemic as a time when we are falling forward. We can’t flap our wings for now. Yet we are moving ahead if we can just lean into the movement and have faith as we fall. I don’t guess the goldfinches have to think about it much. They fall forward out of habit. But the same move in the butterfly stroke on swim team didn’t come easy for me precisely because I couldn’t get my body to just fall forward. I wanted to flail more, flap and wiggle. I wonder if we could fall forward in faith like the goldfinches if this time would be easier. We want to make it end. We want to continue to rise in altitude. We are afraid of falling, and for good reason. But what if our falling into the rhythm of staying at home and working at a distance and wearing masks and all the rest is actually precisely what will move us forward. If we would only lean into the fall and trust that all will be well.
These days are days of fasting. Sometimes we have to fast from seeing each other. We fast from travel and just “getting out.” We fast from worship in church and from Eucharist where we commune with one another and our God. We streamline our bodies for the fall and stay at home, stay safe, worship online or at a distance outside, pray at home, commune with one another on the phone or in zoom on computer. It is all a bit strange and often I want to flail and wiggle. I want to get out and see friends. I want to receive and distribute the bread and the wine, the body and the blood. But right now, I am called to tuck my wings in and fall. And trust.
It is easy these days to imagine that this is detour from life as we know it. We await the time when we can go back to “normal.” But perhaps it would be better to think of this the way the goldfinches fly. This is not a detour. This is actually a large part of the arc of our flight. We are traveling with God. We have ministry to do -- not flailing and wiggling, but new and powerful ministry to do. Watch a goldfinch. The flash of the wings takes a moment as the bird rises. It is the long slow arc of falling when the bird really moves. These days are not wasted days They are days of fasting that show us life with new eyes and give us direction. Don’t just wait for the next time to flap wings. And don’t give in to flailing and wiggling as I used to always do in the butterfly stroke. We are falling with God. We are fasting from some of what we love, but there is so much to love in our fasting and our falling.
We live in a culture that wants to rise and work and flap and flail all the time. But God reminds us that it is more faithful to stop and be, to be still and know God, to love our neighbor not just with another act, but with all our heart and soul and mind. We are practiced at flapping ahead. These days, may we practice the streamlined falling into the arms of God that is also moving forward. And may we remember we are not just coasting, but this too is the joyful work of flying.
The Very Rev. Gary Barker