It’s easy to sleep late on vacation. I slept past 8 o’clock every morning the first week. The cats were not pleased. They did their best to rouse me at my usual early hour, but I persevered as long as I could, tangled up in sheets and chenille spreads. Yesterday, I woke at 5:30, just as the sun was rising. It was a full-on wakefulness, not the usual grogginess of vacation, so I threw on some sweats and went for a paddle.
There was some mist on the lake as I set out, but it quickly blew away as a light breeze came up out of the north. I had thought to bring my binoculars, though I’ve learned that birding from a kayak is usually less than satisfying — it’s hard to keep binoculars steady with the movement of the boat. But since it was an impromptu trip and I had no agenda, I grabbed them as I went out the door. As I emerged from my little cove, I scanned a tall white pine where I had seen a bald eagle perched earlier in the week. Sure enough, he was there again: a fully grown adult bird, close to the trunk near the top of the tree.
As I approached, he took off with a few flaps of his enormous wings, then glided further along the shore to another crag. I paddled along, keeping a steady rhythm. When I got within 50 yards, he took off again and I “chased” him this way the length of the western shoreline. Once, he swooped down and hit the water with his talons, presumably after a fish, so I don’t think I disturbed him too much if he was still thinking about breakfast. Eventually, he flew off to another part of the lake and I continued my paddle.
Song sparrows foraged in the ferns and bushes, juncos trilled and hermit thrushes called from woods. I was glad to find a northern waterthrush bobbing on the rocks in typical waterthrush style. I have heard their song in May when they first arrive, but have hardly ever seen them mid-season, so there’s good reason to believe this was a breeding bird.
I paddled on with a cadenced, unhurried pace and it brought to mind the guided imagery I often use to meditate. Admittedly, I fall in and out of this discipline and haven’t practiced it regularly for some time now. But whenever I do, it is the rhythmic paddling on the lake that I see in my mind’s eye. Left, right. Left, right. Steady, even strokes. Eventually the strokes form the words: One, love. One, love. And I paddle the lake from my den in NJ, or from a conference center in Texas. Left, right. One, love. On this particular morning however, the rhythm was not in my head but rather in my whole body, and my heart called out the words: One, love.
I don’t know how much time passed, but the sun was higher in the sky when I looped around and started to head home. As I rounded the point of Otter Cove, I heard the loud drumming of a woodpecker on a hollow tree. It broke the silence and reverberated around the cove. It was surprisingly loud, and the drumming had a recognizable cadence to it. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers are the only woodpecker I know that taps with a repeated rhythm. It was not hard to find the dead tree that was allowing such an impressive song and once I had identified the tree, the bird was easily spotted. Actually there were four birds. It was the juveniles I saw first, two of them following their mother around the snag. They whined and begged and badgered her, asking to be fed. As I watched, there was another loud burst of drumming and I scanned lower on the tree to find the most vibrantly plumaged adult male sapsucker I have ever seen. He had found the sweet spot, a hollow part of the trunk and he hammered away, again and again. The rest of his family seemed oblivious to his efforts. Was he drilling a sapwell? Certainly not on a dead tree. Was he looking for ants or spiders? Not likely with that recognizable cadence. Marking his territory? Why bother? He already had his family. Making a new cavity? Again, why bother? Yet, he drummed away. Does the rhythmic tapping of the sapsucker induce a meditative state in him, as it does in me? The high-speed, aggressive drumming doesn’t seem to give him a headache...in a sense he was made to drum. And in a sense, I was made to meditate — to think outside myself — imago dei. If a rhythm can induce my heart and mind to open up to the presence of One Love, does the tapping of a sapsucker do the same for him? Has the creation been provided a built-in means by which it worships the Creator? It has long been suggested by people of faith that the songs of the birds are hymns to God. Of course this has been soundly debunked by the scientific world which insists that bird song evolved as a reproductive necessity: males with the best songs attract females and thereby perpetuate their genes. That theory of bird song seems logical, and possibly indisputable. But if birdsong delights us and we have nothing at stake in it, do their songs also delight their Maker? And by delighting the Creator, is that not a form of worship?
Understandably, we tend to approach worship from the perspective of a worshiper. The definition of “worship” is: the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration (for a deity). But have you ever been on the receiving end of reverence and adoration? If so, you know it to be a source of wonderment and joy. It is the hallmark of a wedding day, when one experiences firsthand the complete and total adoration of a new spouse. It is a father who sees his little boy waiting with unbridled excitement in the driveway as he pulls in after a long day’s work. It is the mother whose young daughter waves at her from the stage during her piano recital. We recognize the emotions that come out of mutual, close, loving relationships. Does not God feel something akin to this when we worship?
The psalmist declares: “Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD.” And the prophet Isaiah affirms: “the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” The Prayer of Azariah commands: “Bless the Lord, all birds of the air; sing praise to him and highly exalt him forever.”
Maybe science looks at the same question I do, but from a sideways perspective as it tries to understand the practical why’s of creation — why do birds sing or drum on dead trees? In a practical sense, it might be to find a mate. But certainly there are equally valid, albeit different perspectives. What are birds that they exist in the first place? Were they not created at the pleasure of the Creator? (So God created...every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. Gen. 1:21b) How clever then, that worship from the Creation toward the Creator can double as something utilitarian; like making babies...or paddling a kayak. When we are living in harmony with the Creator, according to how we were made and who we were meant to be, all of life is worship.