Vermillion grace

A few weeks ago I spoke about my friend Jayne in a sermon in relation to my assurance and affirmation of the risen Christ – one of the experiences that gives me confidence that “Jesus is on the loose!” In the last six months of her life on this earth I travelled back and forth to Phoenix to see and spend such sacred and valuable time with her – a gift I will treasure for my lifetime. I spoke about the April after the February she died, seeing a tiny bright red bird on a walk I was taking with my dog Bud and waving and saying “hey Jayne!” as I looked around wondering if anyone else might wonder why I was talking with a bird. A couple of days later Tracy Hemsath brought me an article that was in the KC Star where “birders” in KC reported seeing a bright red vermillion flycatcher, a small red bird from ARIZONA that hadn’t appeared in Kansas City since 2002. And the intermittent reports of them in the history of our area indicated that the relative scarcity means a few probably get lost, or blown off course by a storm and that’s likely the only reason we see them in our area. (I knew it was Jayne regardless of ornithological explanation).

For the last several days I’ve been in Arizona visiting my Aunt and Unc in Tucson for the first time in 18 months. I’m vaccinated, they’re vaccinated, and the tightness of the rules at the airport made me mostly feel o.k. The plane was packed, the gates were packed, the baggage return area in Phoenix was a madhouse and I didn’t get in until 9:00 p.m.! We humans have reached the point of getting away en masse from here to there and there to here regardless of where here and there are it seems . . .me too! The active cases in Arizona are still pretty intense, testing is happening in many places, and vaccinations are available to any who will come and receive. The percentages of those willing are descending just as they are in so many places. Masks are required everywhere and most everyone here is following the rule. So many have died. And clearly it’s just not over. Interesting to get a perspective from a different region of the country.

ANNNNND, yesterday my Aunt and Unc who are “birders” in their own right, took me to the park where, if the bright red vermillion fly-catchers are hanging out anywhere, they are there. It’s one of the few parks the city keeps moderately watered because of soccer fields, so the insects the flycatchers like to eat are more concentrated. It was fairly windy, so sometimes that will reduce the insects and therefore reduce the likelihood of the vermillion. We start walking, no birds. Meandering in the midst of the mesquite trees it occurs to me that they are beautiful in their own right. Suddenly a bird flitted by, but it was gray and yellow and Unc said that’s the female. Then . . . a bright red one! Then another, and a third! They are people friendly, I guess some birds are not, so they are willing to hang around even when we are walking around in their territory. They would land on low hanging branches and then pop down to the ground to grab and insect and back up to the perch. It was amazing and humbling and almost overwhelming somehow. Here’s a couple of pics . . .

As we were leaving the park, one came right to the waist high chain link fence we were walking along to get to the parking lot and the car. We were at some distance from the Mesquite trees and I had said my goodbyes, and there landing on the fence right in front of us, maybe 7-10 ft. in front of us – a bright red vermillion flycatcher landed and stayed for a few moments. I didn’t snap a pic with my phone, sometimes living the experience is the gift. I was reminded of a couple of things 1) my goodbyes don’t control God’s grace; and 2) my goodbyes never controlled Jayne’s spirit! In both cases . . . God is God and I’m/we’re not – a needed reminder in the midst of my/our human proclivity to think I’m responsible for the world’s happiness and health or lack thereof.

There is so much work of recognition, repair, and reconciliation to be done in our world, and we tend to take two steps forward, then three steps back, then one step forward, and two steps back. That is true when facing into tensions of race, gender, class, lgbtqia and creating community with and among all of us together. Part of the complexity of the journey is finding the balance of joy, enduring proactive work for justice, days of leisure and re-creation, focus on understanding with our minds in partnership with empathy in our hearts, willingness to apologize where needed, and taking our mutual responsibility for our part in making the world a better place for all toward God’s enduring vision.

This trip has reflected to me a weariness of spirit that I probably knew was there but in my hard-headedness had been unwilling to acknowledge – a part of my personal spiritual journey of learning and growing. My guess is there are more than a few of you who may be on the same journey. Foundationally it has to do with acknowledging God’s grace is there for each of us, even the one who looks in the mirror back at us each day! My commitment has not and will not wane for recognition, repair, and reconciliation among people AND my realization that the energy to do that over the long haul comes from times of rest and revitalization.

Those bright red vermillion fly-catchers now live in my spirit as does Jayne’s eternal presence by God’s grace. May those unique moments for your life be that which sustains and encourages you as well. Jesus is still . . . ON THE LOOSE!!!