When I walk, I mostly look at my feet. I am not sure why this is. In the urban environment, this is partly due to some social anxiety: I fear making unintentional (and, hence, awkward) eye contact with a passer-by. In the wilder environment, this is mostly due to my klutzy character – I’m watching for tripping hazards. In both types of landscape, it is most certainly provoked my enjoyment of noticing forgotten details that I’d otherwise walk right past – I like the challenge of noticing the nearly forgotten. Regardless of the reason, looking at my feet is my default.
I chanced looking up the other evening. It was a 9pm summer twilight. The sun draws itself out so long this time of year and seems regretful to depart. As I looked up, I noticed one small black speck – a whirling-dervish. It had the erratic behaviour of a bat in flight: at once comical and creepy. As I tried to follow its flight with my eyes, I noticed several more…there was a crowd above my head. If each speck had been carrying a thread, they might have been weaving a tapestry – their movement had a sort of choreographed chaos to it.
These were swifts.
Do you know about swifts? They are truly incredible. They spend almost their entire life on-the-wing. They collect nesting material, mate, preen, and feed all while in flight. During nesting season, they may fly over 500 miles in a single day, making a 3,100-mile migration from the UK to central Africa in as little as 5 days, and stay airborne for ten months without landing. It even sleeps while in flight – taking “power naps” while gliding at high altitudes.
God must have designed them to be living metaphors of “The Possible Impossible”. I thought of how impossible a creature they are when I saw them in flight the other night. I thought of how often I find myself feeling that the things God is calling me to are impossible. And then I look back at the things I’ve categorised as such in the past, only to now see they have been reached and realised.
“”For nothing will be impossible with God.”” (Luke 1:37)
Although I’ve improved in this, I put little faith in myself. And if I am putting little faith in myself, then I simultaneously putting little faith in God’s ability to accomplish anything and everything. I looked at that aerial dance of the swifts and I was convicted by how foolish it is for me to question God’s ability to bring about all things. I mean, what do I really know about the “impossible”? Who I am to say what won’t be done in my life, what I am not capable of if God so desires it?
“…for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” (Matthew 17:20)
I put too little faith in faith. Swifts, as relatives of hummingbirds, can easily be thought of as the ornithological “mustard seeds”. They seem to be moving the “mountains” of what is considered “impossible” for a living creature to do. To consider them, and all they do without hesitation, without determining if it seems a feasible feat, is to remember that faith should not be considered a wilted thing, but a impossibly possible, and unfathomably powerful, thing indeed.
Another thing about the swift – I thought they made no sound. During my urban walking “commutes”, I’m almost always listening to an audiobook. I can normally hear bird calls despite the ear buds. I heard nothing from the swifts, so assumed they were silent, that they were unwilling to converse to me. I took the headphones off to check, and there was a subtle song. I had been missing their chirping chatter all along.
I realised how infrequently I listen for God, and how much I am likely missing out on. I rarely try to hear and don’t often make room in my mind, or make time in my day, to seek God’s voice with attention and intention. I grow used to the gauze of “to do” that gets placed (that I willingly place?) over the eardrums of my mind. And I do have time to stop to hear…I just don’t make it a priority. I just don’t remove the barriers all that often.
That swift conversation was a sound-prompt to the importance of listening, of seeking to hear. Of being willing to risk finding stillness and silence, and being patient to see what comes for that brand of song. The swift’s quiet, nearly missed, conversation was encouragement to me that there is much more God is saying all the time. There are things He is waiting to say my (and your) way.
Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you say, “This is the way. Walk in it.” (Isaiah 30:21)
I pray for direction, lament that I feel confused and uncertain, and is it really any wonder? How can I expect to hear if I do not carve out circumstances to listen? The swifts dance prompted me to not only look up, but to “listen up!” … and listen upwards.
Their impossible life made possible, their chaotic choreography and chattering challenge to take time to listen, is a sermon I’m glad God has given.