On my commute home I notice a dead hawk lying on the road’s edge. Probably hit by a car while swooping for his prey, it’s a pitiful end to magnificent life. I coast to the nearest driveway, reverse back out, and pull over for a closer look. It’s likely a juvenile Red Tailed Hawk. Their screech is the archetype for air-ripping majestic bird calls and is no doubt deserving of such an accolade. Yet, this bird is sprawled out on the pavement with one wing extended in what was his final bate.
If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘eyes like a hawk’ you might be intrigued to know there is actually a good deal of truth to it. Helen MacDonald, in her book H is for Hawk, writes the following describing the truly marvelous eyesight of hawks. “The world she (the hawk) lives in is not mine. Life is faster for her; time runs slower. Her eyes can follow the wingbeats of a bee as easily as ours follow the wingbeats of a bird. What is she seeing? I wonder and my brain does backflips trying to imagine it, because I can’t. I have three different receptor-sensitivities in my eyes: red, green and blue. Hawks, like other birds, have four. This hawk can see colours I cannot, right into the ultraviolet spectrum. She can see polarized light, too, watch thermals of warm air rise, roil, and spill into clouds, and trace, too, the magnetic lines of force that stretch across the earth” (Macdonald 98). Macdonald didn’t say it, but I gladly do––God is a magnificent creator.
A few miles closer to home a Killdeer crosses the road in front of me––I’m happy I didn’t deliver him a similar fate as the hawk’s.
It’s Saturday. I’ve slept in, made coffee, toasted some sourdough and scraped some cream cheese over it to finish it with fresh strawberries. I’ve set my plate and coffee cup on my kitchen table and opened my Bible to Mark. I adore slow mornings like this. Having time to make breakfast, read God’s word, and spend time in prayer makes for a delightful morning.
I’ve been working my way through the Gospel of Mark for the past couple of months and it has been profoundly rich.
Lately I’ve been considering the contrast Mark makes in chapter ten between James and John––members of the innermost group of disciples, witnesses of the transfiguration along with Peter only––and a blind beggar named Bartimaeus. James and John have come to Jesus inquiring of him to do whatever they ask. Jesus simply replied, “What do you want me to do for you?”
If you know the story you might recall that James and John asked to be seated with Jesus in his glory. Jesus sees the self-seeking nature of this request and begins teaching all twelve disciples about true greatness. Jesus turns the leadership paradigm of the age upside down by declaring “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant”.
It is here in this context we find the melodic line of Mark’s gospel that he weaves through the entire fabric of the book––“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many”.
The disciples had it backwards. They reasoned greatness looked like worldly prominence, being honored by others, being seated in glory for all to see, being served by others. Jesus’ teaching puts the verdict starkly––they were mistaken.
From Marks’s record we learn that this conversation and subsequent teaching occurred while they were traveling to Jerusalem. During this journey, as they are passing through the city of Jericho, Jesus healed a culturally maligned, blind beggar named Bartimaeus.
It’s intriguing the way Mark has set these passages up because first we read about James and John––two disciples very close to Jesus, and their blindness to see true greatness––followed by Jesus’ teaching about that true greatness and a final passage about a blind beggar to whom Jesus poses the same exact question as he did to James and John––“What do you want me to do for you?”
Bartimaeus asks that he might recover his sight, that he might see. Jesus, the eternal creator God, heals him. The maligned, blind beggar immediately recovers his sight and begins following Christ.
The shocking thing is that Bartimaeus, not James and John, gets the answer right. Bartimaeus, who’s blind, asks to be healed of his physical blindness thus proving his spiritual sight––he knows he needs Jesus. James and John, who see physically, submit their request to Jesus only to be prove their spiritual blindness––they’re weren’t following Christ when it came to true greatness and being a servant.
It’s easy to think we can see––that we know exactly what we need or what to ask of God––and be totally wrong. We must learn from Mark’s inspired words to humbly serve and submit to Christ instead of seeking our own prominence. We must pray to be walking in the spirit and in the truth of God’s word, knowing the ways of the world leave us blind and conceited, asking for the wrong things while the way of Christ is the cross, is self-denial, is humbly crying out in our blindness for Jesus to open our eyes to his heavenly way.
Later, without other plans, I’m eyeing through the book section at the local secondhand store—nothing of interest today. Instead, I’ve scored a Singer sewing machine.
My Aunt is a remarkable seamstress and I’ve always marveled at the fact that I can drop off a pair of pants that are too long, ripped, or flawed in some other way only to have them returned to me without any discernable evidence of their previous state. To be sure, I’m intrigued and appreciative.
I’m spending the afternoon untangling bobbin thread, rethreading, searching YouTube, and scratching my head—I’m hardly sewing.
I’m on a walk at lunchtime. The river rapids are woven with silt and sand, steadily hurrying the leaves and bits of branches to their downstream destination.
I’m doing a bit of botany while I walk and am pondering what I’ve discovered. On the stream bank, coarse with the green choir of riparian herbs, are two closely related plants––both profoundly deadly.
I’m glaring at Water and Poison Hemlock. These Hemlocks, not to be confused with the northern evergreen tree, Eastern Hemlock, are herbaceous (as opposed to woody), perennial plants found in wet areas. These are the deadliest plants in North America. Due to certain alkaloid bearing compounds, the most notable being Conium, within all parts of the plant even minute ingestion will kill. These toxins quickly attack the nervous system causing convulsions and asphyxiation due to lung paralysis.
Antiquity tells us that the famed philosopher Socrates was executed by being forced to drink a concoction of poison hemlock—he died within a few minutes.
There’s a break in the clouds and the sunlight claps one million tiny glints into existence on the water. The stream slips on unperturbed oblivious to the innumerable diamonds and deadly toxic herbs.
My sewing skills have progressed thoroughly after some practice and I’ve dyed some duck canvas with coffee grounds to craft a first aid pouch for my backpack. I’ve stitched two strips of folded blue cotton on the outside to form a medical cross and am putting the finishing touches on it now by sewing the last bits and turning it right-side out.
I’m tracing eddies as they drift downstream with my elbows braced against the railing. The wood on the bridge is a dark blush from the morning rain, dampening my sweatshirt sleeves as I lean. I’m visiting a couple of friends in southwest Ohio where I used to attend university and am swimming in memories from the four years I spent living here. My friend and I spot a fish—likely a sucker––and watch him pace the stream bed as we talk on the bridge.
A few minutes later we’re pawing through the bracken up the hill back to the car when I eye a cluster of wild ginger on the edge of the trail. I’ve scraped some dirt and detritus from a the rhizome and broken it in half. I give it to my friend and ask what he smells––dirt. After I make another fresh break and suggest ‘ginger?’, he heartily agrees.
A few moments later an Indigo Bunting darts in front of us into the hedge—a horizontal streak of blue lightning. The Indigo Bunting only summers here in North America, spending the winter months in Central or South America (although a very small part of Florida does serve as winter habitat for some). On average these birds will fly 1,200 miles between their summer and winter homes. For this, they’re considered ‘long-distant migrants’. More impressive still is the fact that they make this trek nocturnally using the stars as reference.
I’m happy to have seen one––although it was but for a moment. Indigo Buntings are truly stunning birds.
It has been a sweet time with friends. As much as I enjoy living alone, I need times like this. Sharing what I’ve been learning in Scripture and what God has been doing in me and hearing others discuss the same is an absolute necessity in the life of a Christian. I’m encouraged to press on and to urge others to do the same.
My hosts have been thoroughly hospitable—they always are. I brought sourdough and homemade soap to give them but have been returned tenfold by their kindness, cooking, and company.
I’m reading before bed while a thunderstorm pelts the window pane. There’s the steady pitter patter of drops and a roll of thunder painted into the black background of early night.
There’s a stream of water flowing down the window pane that refracts the light of my lamp. It has warped the window glass through a time machine to the days of wavy, striated glass made by hand—an archaic imperfection replicated by rain.
I’ve taken advantage of a cool evening and biked down the rail trail. Since I’ve last ridden, the canopy has tightened its grip around itself and nearly encompasses the entire breadth of the sky. I’m left to pedal beneath a half moon of bent branches and green fire.
In the hedge there are pink Wild Roses blushing from under a few tree branches and blackberry patches galore. I stop on a few occasions to pick, staining my fingers ‘berry black’. By the time I’ve eaten a couple of handfuls the mosquitos have started eating, too. I mount my bike in a retreat and continue west.
In-between gobbling blackberries and being bit by mosquitos, I’ve picked a wild rose to press in a book––its’ thorns begin the pressing right away with a few pricks into my thumb and fingers.
Dusk is lurking on the perimeter and the dark, cool air is the snitch of its arrival. It’s been hot few weeks so I’m savoring the results of a temporary break supplied by a cold front.
The berries were an unexpected perk—I packed pretzels but never dug them out of my bag.