Monday, October 19, 2009

Bird Baths Are Dangerous Things

Serving as a priest in an Episcopal Church offers some interesting and unique experiences. One of the things that happens on a regular basis is having a person or family whom you have never met come to you seeking sacramental services. This happens most often with baptisms, weddings, and funerals. A priest always hopes that the family, once they get the baby done or the couple started, will be back to attend services and join the community. This rarely happens. I always hope for that, too, but I don't mind offering those sacramental services with no expectations attached. After all, who am I to refuse the touch of God's grace in someone's life?

I must admit that I have always referred to these types of events as "drive bys:" drive by baptisms, drive by weddings, and drive by funerals. I hope you don't find me too irreverent.

Not long ago, we had a drive by baptism at my church.  The candidate, a three year old little girl, knew this was a special occasion and was very excited about it. We were in the church doing some baptismal instruction and this little girl excitedly dashed about.  When she saw the baptismal font, she exclaimed, "Mommy, look at the bird bath!" What a delightful and profound description! How often we use the symbol of the descending dove to depict the grace filled presence of the Holy Spirit, especially in baptism. In the great faith traditions, the cleansing of the body with water often points beyond to the cleansing of the soul. Water is also an archetype for God, reminding us of the creative, cleansing, freeing, nurturing power of the Holy. We come back to the bird bath, seeking that grace again and again.

We have a bird bath on our deck. It is only small one, but it attracts a variety of birds and they create quite a mess.  The mess begins with the inevitable evidence all birds leave behind and goes on from there. Certain birds seem to relish their baths more than others. It is especially fun to watch the beautiful mountain jays. They are large, brightly colored birds and are aggressive. They seem to overwhelm our little pool. They splash about, spreading water all around. They leave their feathers floating on the surface like tiny ships. The water collects bugs and windblown leaves. That bird bath requires regular maintenance.

When we approach the bird bath of our souls, it seems to me that we seek that cleansing of God in much the same way as that little three year old did. She had no idea what her baptism was really all about. She didn't know that this was the beginning of a relationship with God that requires much more. No one had shown her the warning label that must come with any approach to God. She didn't know that a bird bath is a very messy affair.

We approach the bird bath desperately needing that cleansing, creative, freeing, nurturing power of the Holy, but we must remember that discipleship comes with a cost. Those bird baths need warning labels! God needs to provide full disclosure. We must know what we are choosing when we choose God. The warning label might say, "CAUTION! Approaching the Holy One leads to personal sacrifice" or "God's grace requires that you encounter the hard truth" or "Being in the presence of the Spirit may result in turning over your life." We must not seek God's grace naively with no expectation that much will be required of us. Bird baths are messy affairs.

I believe in the power of the bird bath. God works through it, sometimes in ways that are not immediately evident and sometimes in ways we never even know. Let one and all come and be cleansed and nurtured. But often we come like children, naively forgetting the sacrifice that follows. Let us not bathe casually or in ignorance. Always remember those warning labels and, at the same time, embrace them fully

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