Recently I have been noticing a strange phenomenon at one of the major intersections near where I live. In the early evening there are so many birds gathered together in that one spot, it seems like something out of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds! The birds are all over the power lines in every direction and they are in every tree in the vicinity. The thousands of birds all chirping at once make for a cacophonous din rather than for beautiful song. And truth be told, I have feared for my just-washed vehicle with all those birds aloft or on wires over me when I am sitting at the light waiting hopefully for it to change. I wondered what on earth all those birds could be doing there: on each corner is a shopping center and there is no source of food I can discern. I have even wondered how they manage to stay on the power lines without getting electrocuted. It really is quite a mystery to me.
Short of there being some sort of bird convention happening in a world I know not of, this phenomenon is a strange mystery. There is something about this spot that makes it attractive to them because thousands alight on whatever they can find in this avian mob scene. Actually, the spot is attractive to the bird who must be in “leadership”, the one who the many birds follow, (maybe some sort of “alpha” bird), and until that bird decides it is time to re-locate, they stay there. It strikes me (metaphorically) that the flocks are disciples of the lead bird. And where that bird goes, they follow.
In our faith lives we, too, follow a leader, who is our Lord Jesus Christ. Unlike birds who may only be following by instinct or because they are hungry or thirsty, we make rational choices. Don't we? Yes, we do; but like the birds we also follow through a "spiritual instinct", if you will, which is called faith. We receive this gift at our baptism: it is freely given and we freely accept it, so we do make a choice. But because it is a grace, it often empowers us when we are searching for understanding of something beyond us or if we are searching for God in a situation. It allows us to hear the Word as spoken by Jesus and written in the Gospels and it inspires us to follow, knowing He is the true Son of God. It allows us to learn how to discern the movements of the Spirit who leads us toward God. Faith also helps us to learn how to notice God's presence all around us.
The spiritual life is about learning how to notice the movements of God both interiorly and exteriorly. It is about attentiveness, which is a choice we make in response to our loving God. Our lives are filled with all sorts of signs of the presence of God which we often miss while hurriedly going about the busyness of our day to day lives. We can learn how to be more attentive to these signs through prayer. Through prayer, we learn how He works in our lives; we learn what is holding us back from being our true selves and subsequently what He is offering to lead us to freedom; and we learn what His dreams are for us, (interior noticing). God loves us first and invites us into that love. Our response of love in return is what I call prayer. We desire to share ourselves with the Beloved who has first shared Himself with us. His love so moves us that we begin to let it shape and mold us, to melt the hard places within, and to inspire us to share it with others. If we let love transform us little by little in prayer, it can only move us outward in loving actions. Love moves us to act, to give, to bring healing and hope because love cannot be contained. It has to overflow. In prayer, we allow that transformation, but in the process we learn how to notice God’s presence all around us, (exterior noticing). Our time of prayer may not feel like anything is happening, but it opens the door to seeing the world transformed because we begin to see Him everywhere.
Like the birds in my example, we, too, are hungry. As disciples, we hunger and thirst for all sorts of things, but especially for God. We want to follow because we trust in His message. In the Gospel for this Sunday we hear about a Samaritan woman who met Jesus at a well in her town as He and the disciples were passing through. Samaritans and Jews had a long history of disdain toward one another. Therefore when Jesus began speaking to the woman, she was shocked that He, a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan woman. He already knew all about her. He knew she was considered a fallen woman, since she had had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband. She was at the well at midday, which was when no one else would be around, probably because of her sense of shame due to her lifestyle. Yet Jesus not only engaged her in dialogue, but He helped her to see that He was attentive to her in order to offer her the Living Water that only He could give. He reached out in love and she responded. She was very thirsty, and He gave her to drink of the well of His love.
The woman was so transformed by the love she received that she ran back to town, leaving her most valuable possession, the water jar, behind. It seems that she truly understood that nothing of this earth is as important as the love of Jesus who alone can give us the living water of eternal life. As evidence of her transformation, she was no longer ashamed of who she was or of what the other people thought of her. She ran through the town telling people to come and see the man who told her everything about herself, who she identified by wondering if he could possibly be the Christ. In that transformation, she became a true disciple, because her first response was not to keep this treasure to herself and hoard what she had received. Rather, she ran to share it with people who probably were not considered her friends up until that moment. A true disciple proclaims the gospel, and being filled by the love which Jesus gives, cannot but share it with others. When she chose to drink of the water He offered, she became a true believer.
Like the Samaritan woman and her neighbors, (and maybe like the flocking birds), we are hungry and thirsty for the Lord. Jesus still sits at the well waiting for each of us to show up so that He can give us the Living Water of eternal life which only He can give. Nothing less will ever satisfy us. But we need to be attentive in order to see Him present at the well. That is, He is present to us every day, but if we are in such a hurry that we do not notice Him at the well, then we will pass Him by without so much as a nod of our head. If we learn to recognize Him by allowing the Spirit to open our eyes through the practice of prayer, we can drink deeply of His love every moment of every day. And the more we drink, the more we share with those who are searching.
Let us be like the Samaritan woman who allowed herself to engage in conversation with Jesus. Let us allow our prayer time to transform us. Let us realize that even if we do not feel His presence He is indeed there, offering us His love on a very deep level. Let us become selfless, like the woman, turning to prayer in order to center on God, and then turning to others in order to share the wealth of His message and His love. If we spend the time, He will help us to learn to see Him everywhere with the eyes of our hearts and to trust that in those times when we cannot see Him, He is indeed present.
May we have the desire to pray and to let our prayer transform us into true disciples! May we allow the Spirit to guide us as we live our faith, hope, and love! May we learn to be attentive, seeing the presence of God all around us! And may we find our thirst for love, belonging, and service, (that is, our longing for the Kingdom of God), satisfied by the Living Water only Jesus Christ can give! Let us continue to meet at the well within the Heart of Jesus where we drink deeply of His love! Peace!
*All photos are mine. The pelican above is a Christian symbol of selfless love. This one seemed to be attentively watching the fisherman in order to acquire some of their fish to eat. I presume she was also wanting some of their catch in order to feed her offspring.
The second photo is of the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. It reminds me of the living water Jesus spoke of in that there is much greenery and life near the water's edge.
Here are two photos I took after I posted this blog entry. This only gives a small idea of how many birds there are in this area. They clearly spanned a quarter mile in each direction. The sight is almost unbelievable...and imagine the noise! (By the way, I shot these with my phone camera from inside a restaurant, so that is why there are reflections of light which seem to be in the sky.)
Heart Speaks to Heart