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Sunrises, Hummingbirds, and the Power of Contemplation

Since the kids started back at school a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been up before the sun every morning. Once they’re fed, I step outside, coffee in hand, to watch the sun come up. As it rises, a hummingbird always zips to the feeder for her breakfast just a few feet away from me. There’s something captivating about that tiny creature with its wings fluttering in a rapid blur and bright green body hovering in near stillness that seizes my full attention. Captured by the tiny bird’s sudden arrival, seemingly out of nowhere, I notice my own stillness and the effect it has on me. I breathe deeper and slower. I can feel my body more completely—its pain and soreness, its strength and resilience, its exhaustion and finitude. I didn’t realize I needed these brief morning moments of contemplation until I allowed myself to be immersed in them. In an essay titled, “Contemplative Ecology: Contemplation for a World in Crisis,” John Crocket writes, “A contemplative is one who takes the time to observe herself and the world around her closely and sensitively, with openness and without an agenda. He observes his own thoughts and feelings and patterns of behavior. She actively observes herself, others, the plants, the animals, the wind, the rain, the streams and rivers. Contemplation honors the world with open, undivided attention.” I would not consider myself to be a contemplative, but those sunrises and hummingbird visits certainly have granted me spiritual observations about the last 17-plus months; the heaviness these pandemic days have heaped onto us, and our quick tendencies to contribute to that weight out of our own anxiousness that can’t stand the thought of a pause. Looking back at mid-March of 2020, when the world retreated into quarantine, it would seem that those long days of waiting and wondering would be remembered as slower times rife with contemplation. Despite the slam on the brakes, however, we, as a society, stoked by our anxiousness, ratcheted up efforts to acquire commodities (Remember those empty shelves of toilet paper?), maintain normalcy (“Texas is open for business!”), and preserve the status quo. The frantic rush to an invisible finish line we have yet to cross—one where it is safe for all of us, including the most vulnerable among us, to be out in life-giving spaces together—hindered our ability to contemplate. And without contemplation, both individual and corporate contemplation, we cannot recognize a crisis, nor feel the full weight of its effects on us, let alone turn to what we need to get through it. A recovering addict will tell you that the first step to recovery is admitting that you have a problem. Yes, and the path toward any kind of healing and wholeness starts with an honest admittance and subsequent assessment of damaging behavior; in other words, seeing a crisis for what it is. In Crisis Contemplation: Healing the Wounded Village, Barbara Holmes, a spiritual teacher and writer who focuses on African American spirituality, mysticism, cosmology, and culture, writes, “During crisis contemplation, all the systems that we have put in place to undergird our fantasies collapse and we fall headlong, together, into the power of divine intention and the mystery of an inner and outer cosmos.” Could it be that a sunrise and hummingbirds have the power to reveal crises, and to point a restless soul to the good and necessary work it will take to honestly and fully heal from this heavy, heavy mess? Could it be that taking time for crisis contemplation will do what this pandemic has been relentlessly pushing us to do: acknowledge how anthropocentrism has caused nature to retaliate; how racism, xenophobia and white supremacy have caused the disproportionate number of deaths among BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) from covid; and how hyper-individualism, that is scared to death of a pause to contemplate all of this, is turning neighbor against neighbor, while more and more children become susceptible to a deadly virus? It’s been more than 17 months of rushing into an unsustainable future, but it’s never too late to contemplate. There’s always time for God’s goodness and righteousness to deliver us into liberating possibilities that are only impossible to an anxious spirit. Barbara Holmes puts it like this in a poem for our contemplation: It is alright to stop striving. It is alright to grieve losses and then let go. It is alright to withdraw from ordinary pursuits for a while. It is alright to get out of the driver’s seat and sit in the back for a while. It is alright to let the Spirit lead. Amen.

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