May 23: The Grace of the World
By the Rt. Rev. Henry N. Parsley, Jr.,
Visiting Bishop for the Diocese of South Carolina
We live on a salt marsh surrounded by a creek and open water. During home isolation (between Zoom meetings), we have had long swathes of time to watch the colorful variety of birds and waterfowl that live around us. The current stars of the show are the ospreys. They arrive in the spring each year, build nests, ride the winds, and fish prodigiously. They offer their distinctive cries when we happen to come close. We miss seeing our friends terribly these days, but the ospreys make good neighbors.
The ospreys put me in mind of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6: “consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly father feeds them.” In this teaching, Jesus is making a point about the corrosiveness of our human anxiety. “Do not worry about your life,” he says. See how God cares for the birds and the lilies of the field by nature’s grace. How much more will God care for you?
Jesus is wisely urging us to learn to find peace in what is given.
But I wonder if Jesus’ words, “consider the birds of the air,” might also have another meaning for us in our time. Innumerable studies are showing us the dramatic decline of bird species and other creatures because of the human abuse of creation. Our over-development of habitat, destruction of wild spaces, and our pollution of the air and water are causing animal and bird life to be radically diminished. The dramatic increase of air and water quality during the world’s slowdown has highlighted just how much damage modern life is doing to creation.
Our original vocation as human beings is to be stewards of the earth. God made humanity to “tend and care for the garden,” Genesis tells us. That means not just thinking of ourselves and our endless needs, but considering the wellbeing of the wild creatures of the air and the fields and the woods. What we do affects them for good or ill. One theologian goes so far as to say, “what we do to them we do to Christ.” For they too are our neighbors.
As the church approaches Pentecost, we remember that it is the Holy Spirit’s invisible, indwelling presence that gives life to all things. The creed calls the Spirit “The Lord and giver of life.” As we honor nature and care for the creatures, we are honoring the Spirit. Jesus’ words, “consider the birds of the air,” invite us both into the beauty of the Spirit’s gifts and into our calling to be God’s good stewards.
Wendell Berry’s poem, "Peace of Wild Things," ends:
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the
great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of the wild things
who do not tax their lives with
of grief. I come into the presence of still
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am
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During the uncertain times created by the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, leadership of the diocese will send out regular meditations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays for the next while as we all adjust to a new chapter of living and being the Church.