Thursday, January 14, 2010

my saint francis moment

So Sunday I went looking for gathered worship. Being on holiday, being in unfamiliar terrain, it meant checking out the signboard on the nearest local church for the start time. 10:30 am Sunday’s it said.

Next day I duly arrived. Disconcerted, I noted a distinct absent of cars. Now I know that country churches can be small, but this was wierd. Perhaps, the minister and the loyal locals parked around the back. So I drove around the corner, but still the street was deserted and the church doors remained locked.

I checked around the buildings and noticed the noticeboard, advertising the Christmas services. So their was life in the buildings. And then, looking closer, I noticed the fine print – that start times for January were in the “Echo.” Of what the “Echo” was, there was no indication.

So the large sign gave a time, the fineprint gave a sign, but both were useless and the street remained empty. So much for the hospitality of the gospel in this local manifestation of God’s body!

I noticed a seat. Seeing I’d driven about 20 minutes, I decided to take a moment. The seat was large, comfortable, out of the wind and in the sun. I nice play to settle and still.

After a few minutes, there was a large, defiant quack. Mother duck emerged from the creek a few feet away, protesting loudly.

Beside her were eight ducklings, who deemed mother’s protest a trumpet call to charge. The ducklings waddled across the gap and began to circle my feet and then settle companionably. One brave duckling pecked my shoe. Another, braver, began to nibble my socks. It felt like Saint Francis, and much closer to heaven than any church service I could imagine.

To add distinctiveness to my holiday spirituality, I had grabbed When I Talk to You: A Cartoonist Talks to God. It’s been a great aid for prayer and reflection. And Leunig uses a duck to express his feelings about prayer. The duck symbolises many things, including nature, instinct, feeling, beauty, innocence, the primal, the non-rational. He concludes: “A person kneels before a duck … The person is praying.”

It seemed to find physical expression in this St Francis moment. The church building might be locked, God’s love expressed in the body of Christ, absent. But God’s love in creation, outside the building, is nuzzling at my feet, reminding me that love exists in the world, and can be experienced through unexpected stillness and undeserved trust.

Posted by steve at 04:32 PM


  1. I got to preach last Sunday, the gospel reading was the Baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit got a mention – descending like dove, flames, water, wind (all natural symbols).
    Anyway, in my sanitised suburban life – I don’t often experience a naked flame – it is easier to turn on the central heating; water arrives via a tap; You get the idea.

    WELL!!! Not this week. I am looking after my neighbour’s chickens – not as friendly as Steve’s ducks; or the same experience as the Holy Spirit descending like a dove… But it’s closer than I usually get to feather friends.

    Boring I know, but I don’t think I have ever touched a bird. I didn’t realise how soft they were, or how they nestled into my hands when I put them into their hen house for the night. And each time I have put them into the hen house, I ponder, how many people think about God, and decide what God is like, without ever having touched God.

    And how connecting with the natural, draws me further into relationship with God.

    So, thanks to Dave for having a holiday and asking if I can look after his chickens.

    Comment by KSW — January 14, 2010 @ 10:08 pm

  2. I call these types of God moments “altars”. Moments when we encounter God in real, authentic ways. For me, I have gotten into bird watching. It seems as i walk through a forest, I’m struck by the beauty of God’s creation and through that draw closer to him. Often I end up just having some time with God and don’t really do much bird watching!

    Comment by Geoff — January 15, 2010 @ 7:42 am

  3. KSW, that’s fascinating. I presume you are aware of the links between Spirit as bird, and the maternal images in Genesis 1 of spirit hovering like a bird; which fit so well with your experience of a bird.

    Kim’s book on Spirit in global cultures has some fascinating comments on birds and indigenous cultures and spirit. it got me wondering about what birds might depict Spirit best in Aoteroa.

    Godwits in Canterbury?


    Comment by steve — January 17, 2010 @ 2:52 pm

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