24 Jul Visited by a Hawk
It was a hot day yesterday. The thermometer nearly hit 100 degrees. After officiating at a memorial service, I had gone to the reception in our church hall which is not air-conditioned. When I left, the temperature in the room was 96. Once home, I was ready to enjoy the comforts of air-conditioning.
My wife, however, was walking around our gardens and noticed a hawk that we have been seeing much of this summer. She insisted that I come outside, and that we eat dinner on our porch. As we were eating, this red-tailed hawk landed on the branch of an oak tree, no more than twenty or thirty feet away. It stayed there for some time watching us watch it. Many minutes later, it flew onto the section of the roof directly above us. We could see its red tail hanging over the gutter. We walked around to see it more clearly. A few minutes later, it flew into a different oak a little further away and, again, stayed there for some time, watching and being watched. Some smaller birds stood guard, alerting the area of the hawk’s presence. Next, this hawk flew to the ground some twenty feet away, where it hopped and poked at some wood chips at the base of a tree. It flew, then, across our oak grove to a church building and rested on the corner of the roof, still very much in view. Again, if flew toward us and landed in our yard, displaying its magnificence to us. Finally, it flew to a higher oak branch and soon disappeared from sight. I imagine that this hawk visitation lasted thirty minutes in all.
Hawks have been seen as messengers by many cultures. It felt like this hawk suspected that I might be a bit too modern and skeptical to believe such nonsense, and so, decided that I might need a bit of extra convincing to become open to receiving the message it had to deliver. My wife has a book which interprets animal meanings. I went straight for it. As I read, there was much which seemed to speak directly to both me and my wife. One sentence especially jumped out. It was suggested that the hawk may show up at that point in your life when you begin to move to your soul purpose more dynamically.
In a couple of weeks, I will graduate or be sent from a two-year program designed to immerse students in classic Christian mystical writings and intentional and daily spiritual practices. It has been a great experience and I recommend it for anyone who feels a longing to deepen his or her spiritual life. The program is called the Living School and it is a big part of the work of the Center for Action and Contemplation which was founded by Richard Rohr over thirty years ago. With Richard, Cynthia Bourgeault and James Finley form the core faculty. The school does not emphasize mystical or unusual experiences. Rather, it grounds participants in rigorous reading and disciplined practices. But along the way, if we are paying attention, signs and surprises are given.
At an intensive I attended over a year ago, one night I was awakened by two separate nightmares. With one, I woke myself with a scream. At breakfast, responding to a question about how well I slept, I shared that I had not slept well at all. As I talked with a very good listener, it became clear to me that my dreams were about unintegrated anger and fear in my relationship with my father. This was a surprise, for I felt like I had made peace with this part of my past a long time ago. That morning, Richard Rohr’s lecture was about how the archetype of the wounding father gets projected onto God, and how Jesus came to heal these deep wounds. Jesus called God, Abba, which means daddy. Jesus cleansed the Temple, in essence, showing us that God is not some angry, judging father who needs to be placated with constant sacrifice in order to be convinced to love us. Carl Jung called experiences like these, synchronicities. Meaningful coincidences. Signs, we might say. A way in which we are called to greater attention.
So, yes, I have received my share of signs at many times in my life. When I think about them, it is impossible not to see them as meaningful. I have shared them many times in my years of ministry. Both of my grown sons were adopted by me and my former wife when they were infants. The Sunday after we received three week old Samuel, I was scheduled by the Senior Pastor to preach. The lectionary reading for that Sunday was about the birth of Samuel. The day that we received temporary custody of eight week old Chandler, as I walked out of the courtroom with Chandler in my arms, a woman was passing by. She stopped, smiled and said, “What a beautiful baby! What’s its name?” I said, “Chandler.” She seemed startled. Her face contorted and she began to cry. I was confused. Then she looked up and said, “I recently lost a young grandchild to cancer whose name was Chandler.” She now looked at me directly and firmly and said, “Take good care of that child!”
The message of our red-tailed hawk visitor is more ambiguous. But that it was sending us a message seems unquestionable. Am I moving more dynamically into my soul’s purpose at this point in my life? Is my wife? It seems to both of us that this is the case. My vision of the church and of my role in it is very different from what it used to be. The great theologian, Karl Rahner, had written many years ago that the church of the future would rediscover the mystical or it would not continue to be at all. Nurturing the mystical or contemplative or a deeper experience of the divine is the organizing center of all that I do these days. Is that my soul’s purpose? It feels to me like it is. Was this the message of our hawk friend last night, to keep on in pursuit of this mission? This, at least, is my provisional take away. At the very least, it shook me awake from my all-too-usual slumber and reminded me that the universe is a magical place, dripping with the wonder and glory of God. Apparently, I need signs from time-to-time, assuring me that this is so.