The following is a meditation delivered by the Rev. Carole Wageman at the 2019 Electing Convention.
A video of this presentation is available in the 2019 Electing Convention Archive.
Psalm 104 (24-26) is a wonderful song of thanksgiving for God’s creation of the world. In particular are these three verses:
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Yonder is the great and wide sea,
with its living things too many to number,
Creatures both small and great
26 There move the ships,
and there is that Leviathan,
which you have made for the sport of it.
It is interesting to consider that God might have created a “leviathan”–perhaps a whale–for the “sport of it.”
But why wouldn’t God create something that was simply to delight and create a sense of whimsy and wonder? Why wouldn’t God want to have a bit of fun?
Perhaps there are other instances of God’s sense of humor and wit if we have the eyes to see them.
If you drive around the rural farm country you might have occasion to notice the phenomenon where a large group of birds, frequently flocks of starlings, swoop together in flight, moving as a group with one mind, changing the shape, silhouette, and direction instantaneously and precisely at the same millisecond. “Thousands of these tiny birds flock together, swooping, dipping, and climbing in graceful uniformity”. Each shape different and unrepeatable. “Synchronized movements that look like a magic carpet rippling and rolling through the sky, sometimes even obscuring the sunlight when the flock is large.” (Peter W. Marty)
There is a name for that kind of wonder. It is called a “murmuration”. We might also think of it as God’s artwork in the sky because it is simply stunning and breath-taking to behold.
Many wonder how do those birds do that? Peter W. Marty, editor of the Christian Century reflects on these murmurations and says:
As I observe the undulating coordination of these small black birds in flight, the musical term legato comes to mind. A legato passage in a musical score has a curved line above the phrase to indicate that it is to be sung or played in flowing manner. The job of the musician is to smoothly connect each note with the next, avoiding any and all space between them…The starlings I’ve observed in the Illinois sky fly legato. Few other species in creation replicate their synchronicity. Like a gifted horn player floating through complex movements, starlings enjoy a coordinated fluency to their flight.
Thanks to high-speed photography, researchers today know why starlings interact so coherently and how they avoid midair collisions. Each starling pays attention only to six or seven surrounding birds. There is no designated leader. Any bird can initiate a change of direction. A consensus among hundreds or even thousands of birds can emerge within 50 milliseconds.
Christian congregations [and I would include “dioceses” as well] that know how to move with spontaneity, but which enjoy order within that spontaneity, are what I call legato congregations. They don’t obsess over rules, yet they understand good process. They don’t have a hierarchical plan for every new initiative, yet things get accomplished. They don’t expect everybody to know everybody else, yet groups of people do purposeful things and build intimate community. Through the interplay of believers trying to find their way together, legato congregations build a coherent and meaningful life.
Legato is more than a musical term. It can also define a flock of birds flying overhead, or a group of believers working together down below.1
As we listen for the spirit among us, in us, around us, I offer this image that God’s holy spirit is a lot like murmurations of the starlings: swirling, swooping, shifting, delighting us in the hidden wonder of how the spirit works among us. In your imagination, give yourself over to watching that picture in your minds-eye during this next little while as we sing Veni Sancte Spiritus…simply because it is delightful to do and inspiring to perceive the hand of God moving among us.
1 Peter W. Marty, “When churches fly like starlings” Christian Century.org/article/publisher/when-churches-fly- starlings May 23, 2018 . Accessed May 23. 2108.
Copyright @ 2019 Carole A. Wageman. All rights reserved.