Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Wednesday, September 4, 2019

The changing seasons of life

Our hummingbirds have flown south.

            We hung out three hummingbird feeders all summer. Hummingbirds are scrappy little critters, even more so than finches. They fiercely defend their own territory, which includes what they think of as their own private Walmart of sweet nectar.

            Even so, we’ve sometimes had three or four birds zipping around at a time, grabbing a sip here, a sip there.

            The last hummingbird dropped in for a drink about two weeks ago. I think she was a female calliope hummingbird, although she didn’t stay still long enough for an unskilled bird watcher like me to check her anatomical details.

            She fluttered up, slurped, and was gone.

            And didn’t come back for a second martini.

            I guess she migrated south, wherever hummingbirds go for the winter. Mostly Central America, I gather.

            What a journey for a creature that weighs less than a sugar cube! Four thousand kilometres, all alone.

            Most  birds migrate in flocks. Hummingbirds, apparently, fly alone the whole way. It’s a safety measure. They fly low, close to the tree tops. And they’re so small that a single bird is almost invisible to predators.


Migratory patterns

            That last little hummingbird prompted me to read up about bird migration.

            The bigger birds tend to soar. When eagles and buzzards migrate -- many don’t -- they spread their huge wings and ride the air currents rising up mountain slopes.

            Some birds flap the whole way. Geese, for example -- although they do benefit from drafting the bird ahead, to reduce energy consumption.

            And still other birds ride a kind of roller coaster. They flap vigorously to gain altitude, then coast for a while -- either with wings spread or wings folded -- then flap upwards again.

            But hummingbirds never rest. Their tiny wings may beat 80 times a second. While migrating, they may fly 20 hours straight. Figure it out -- that’s 5.76 million wingbeats a day!

            Which is almost matched by their tiny hearts, which can beat 1,200 times a minute in flight.

            To compensate, when they settle down for the night, hummingbirds hibernate. They go dormant, consuming next to no energy.

            My mind boggles.


Thinking ahead

            I wonder if hummingbirds have any idea, before they set out, what their migration entails. The outlay of energy. The risks of the route. The possibility of not making it there. Or not making it back. And since they fly solo, how do they teach their children to read the earth’s magnetic field like a GPS map?

            What, if anything, tells them “re-calculating” when a wind blows them off-course?

            And how do they read the recurring seasons? Does some kind of formula built into their DNA input coding about flowers fading, temperature dropping, insects dying, and hours of daylight declining, to tell them when to leave? Or does the wind just smell different one day?

            I find myself having similar wonderings about the seasons of my life. I can sense autumn coming -- both the autumn of the year, and the autumn of my years. But I’m not sure what signs I’m reading, or how I interpret those signs.

            Do hummingbirds ever wonder when they’ll take their last trip? I know I do.

            And like the hummingbirds, I expect to take it alone. Don’t we all?


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

                  To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Last week’s column, on the ways the words we use limit our thinking patterns, seemed to be popular with many of you.


One writer, who requested that I withhold her name, personalized some people’s adverse feelings about words like Father. She wrote, “I am a recovered incest person and this word used to put me into tailspins. It was hard to begin the Lord's prayer. ‘Our Father’ brought very non-spiritual thoughts to me.

            “After years of therapy I'm no longer a victim -- I'm a survivor, even a thriver, but I still have to think twice when I'm at a meeting and someone says, ‘Let's close with the Our Father.’”


Bob Rollwagen agreed that “many people use words without a thought to their potential meaning. They talk with words that they feel, based on their unstated definitions, represent their opinion or thought. Many times, we are misunderstood and do not know it. Our social structures and political systems were designed by individuals who used words in what we are led to believe was a very clear and singular understanding of the word. Few see how this creates challenges in today’s more liberal approach to law, for example.”


Dorothy Haug doesn’t find the words “King” and “Lord” meaningless. Rather,  “They seem filled with a sense of a former patriarchy. I don’t mind them used occasionally, but when they are used exclusively to identify Jesus, I kind of tune out (much as one does when the Old Testament is preached literally rather than allowing for metaphor or identifying the stories as simply that -- stories to explain the unexplainable). I DO like the term ‘Creator spirit’ but I see your problem with the word ‘Creator’. I like the idea of the ‘divinity of everyone and everything’. It helps calm me down and fills me with gratitude and hope -- two things that sustain me in this turbulent time.”


Anne McRae doesn’t feel that using the word “nigger” automatically connotes denigration (is that word itself derived from ‘negro”? JT). Anne writes, “I have a happy feeling for the word 'nigger'-- years ago when I was a child, my aunts who were new grad nurses went to New York to work, and they sent letters home mentioning "the sweet little nigger babies", and that is how I still think of nigger -- a sweet little baby."


The words that Dave Edwards uses about divinity “keep changing. Now I will have to look more closely at the name ‘Creator’. I like this excerpt from a reflection by Richard Wagamese in Embers:  (even though he does use ‘Creator’): ‘Nowadays I figure life is pretty simple: Creator is everywhere and divine light shines through everything and everyone all the time. My work is to look for that light. In those fleeting, glorious instances when I see it, I am made more, right then, right there."


Mike Crockett, wrote from South Africa: “For myself God is a presence in the same sense as gravity, always present, yet seldom noticed -- until you fall of course. I am reminded of the Gk word for heaven = ouranou = space. God occupies air. And air is inside all things -- the tiniest electrons within an atom are hollow. So at the big bang God is within the very first of the post-singularity formation and explodes outwards from within the Universe that forms.”


Boyd Wilson shared his own creedal statement: “A year or two ago I caught myself being ever so self-righteous, condemning others' beliefs without critiquing my own. So I set out to write a personal creed devoid of the word ‘God.’ The long, convoluted result is in my archive, https://earthedspirit.wordpress.com/creed

            JT: I recommend reading Boyd’s creed at his link.


Isabel Gibson remembered “when I started to have trouble thinking of God as a ‘person’ -- an entity out there. Out where? And from where? And in what form? And so on. I wasn't in a church community at that point so I went to talk to the local university chaplain. He said my problem wasn't my concept of God but my concept of a person as something unitary and distinct. That's not what a person was! Imprisoned by words indeed.”

            I asked Isabel for some clarification: “These days I lean more to your notions and take some interest in the emergent-God notion, but also read some traditional Catholic writing, because some of that resonates, too.

            “As near as I recall, the chaplain’s point was that we think of ourselves as standalone entities, from our first memories to this moment and on into whatever future we have. This is me here; that's you over there; the boundaries are obvious. But he figured that we were so formed by our interactions with others (and in turn, forming them), then that this sense of unitary self was an illusion. Maybe almost a delusion. We're all just one big hairball?

            “So it wasn't just that God wasn't a person in the sense of a stand-alone entity -- neither was I or anyone.

            “I think this gets close to what you've described as God being in the interactions and connections.”






Psalm 139 is, for me, one of the really great psalms. I’m not convinced this paraphrase does it justice, but here it is anyway.


1          I am transparent to you, God.
You can see right through me.

2          I can hide nothing from you.
You read my body language, and detect my deepest feelings.

3          The tiniest quirks of my handwriting reveal everything that's going on inside me.

4          You know what I'm going to say before I've thought it through.

5          I look around at the world, and you are there;
I look within my psyche, and you are there; 
Emotion and intellect are one to you.

6          You know me better than I know myself. 
I could not stand knowing myself that well --
I need some hidden corners still to discover,  some mysteries still to unfold.

13        No wonder you know me so well, God. 
Even before my mother knew she was pregnant,  you wrote the genetic code of my cells.

14        You created my life.

15        Wombs and worlds are one to you;  they have no secrets from you; 
you are the essence of all life.

16        As once you shaped the cells that formed my fingernails and my hair,  so you still guide me through the events of each day.

17        Even if I am only a fleeting thought flickering through your mind, I am in good company.

18        All of creation owes its existence to you, God. 
I can no more imagine your thoughts than I can recall every detail of my dreams. 
But you are not a dream, for when I wake, you are still with me.


For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.






If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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                  I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

                  And for those of you who like poetry, I recently posted another poem (about the prairies) on my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca,  or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca(If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)






To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have been blocking my posts because they’re suspicious of some of web links.

                  Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                  Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. The original website has been closed down, but you can still order the DVD set through Wood Lake Publications, info@woodlake,com

                  Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTcaHe’s also relatively inexpensive!

                  I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

                  Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                  I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge.



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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: autumn, hummingbirds, migration



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