Saturday, December 02, 2006

In Praise of Pelicans

Yesterday I had lunch near the pier in Goleta. It was one of those incandescent days - bright blue skies, strong fall sunlight. After my lunch partner returned to work, I stayed by the beach for a while. I read from an Advent devotional, sent a few brief prayers/sighs heavenward and just sat there, drinking in the view. For the birds had come out to play, you see, and that view was pretty remarkable.
There were several groups of pelicans, divebombing for a late lunch, and I was dumbfounded with admiration.
Pelicans are large, rather ungainly looking birds when sitting on the pier - huge beaks, large webbed feet and a wingspan wider than many human beings are tall. If those wings are even partially open while they try to walk, they begin to list like a sinking ship. They make no sounds at all - I guess that huge fishing beak leaves no room for a voice box - but boy, whenever they're in the air - the show is on!
They can soar without moving a muscle for what seems like miles at a time. Or they can skim, just inches above the water, looking for their next meal. They can land on or take off from the water in the blink of an eye, making the swirling waves look like solid ground.

When the day is beautiful - as yesterday surely was - they can climb about 30 feet above the waves and scout out a tasty morsel in the clear waters below, then make a stomach-dropping plummet, quickly bouncing buoyantly to the surface with a beakful. It is wonderful to watch.

I have long been fascinated with these strange, shoreline creatures, probably because there is something ancient, almost primeval about them.
Our California brown pelicans look like a strange mixture of leftover parts from God's design lab - part dinosaur, part sea bird. Surely such a creature could not be eloquent, graceful, even beautiful. And yet they are.

Proving once again that noise is not required for beauty to shine. In fact, pelicans are a reminder to me that silence has a unique beauty all its own. Pelicans can soar and skim and dive. They can do exactly what they're designed to do and they can do it really, really well.

How lovely it would be if God's human creatures could do what they are designed to do - to worship God with whole and holy hearts, to live in soulful companionship with one another, to work for the joy of it, and to cease from work regularly so that quiet can provide the ballast that is needed to keep the ship afloat.
Help us, O Lord, as we move into the Sabbath tomorrow and as we gather at your table, to become - just for a minute or two - who we really are. And to be who we really are... really, really well.