Sunday, July 25, 2010

Working On Purpose

We have a hummingbird feeder hanging from the eave of our porch roof. It is located in the corner, above the outdoor dining table at which, weather permitting, breakfast, lunch and dinner are eaten. Sitting in the shade of that great southern porch, surrounded by views of woods and mountains, enveloped in the constant cooling breeze that offsets the summer’s heat, allows one to take moments to reflect on the sights, sounds and rhythms of the nature that surrounds. (And yes, this is often what passes for simple entertainment when you live an hour from “normal” civilization!)

Sitting at the dining table the other day, I studiously watched as 3-4 hummingbirds took advantage of the sugar-water in that feeder. They would dart down from their perch in a nearby tree, hover mid-air at the feeder, insert their long beaks into one of the feeder holes, drink quickly or sit and indulge awhile, and then zip off in an instant to rest from their work.

And so this pattern continues all day long. But with variations. Perhaps with an occasional side-trip to one of the many brightly colored flowers in the garden. Some hummingbirds would notice me sitting there and fly away, suspicions of my presence interrupting their work. Occasionally a dominant hummingbird would attack another feeding bird and chase it away – obviously claiming the feeder as its own selfishly-entitled property. (We have since installed a second feeder to try to prevent the kids from fighting with each other.) And then other wildlife got into the drama as a bee finds the feeder and decides to also claim it as its own, thereby chasing away all of the hummingbirds. (Stingers apparently trump comparative size.) The fact that the bee cannot get to any of the sugar-water seems to matter not a twit in this scheme of escalating dominance.

In the meantime, a small bug of some sort (my knowledge of bugs is quite limited in detailed recognition skills) lands on one of the cut flowers in a vase on the table. He also goes about his task – exploring and draining from the core of one flower, then jumping to the next, making the rounds of each available flower. All while the many butterflies of various sizes and colors flutter from one flower in the garden to another, seeking out the fruits of their searches.

It is actually fairly easy to sit and watch this broad scenario of life throughout the day, day after day, in its continual repetition. It will go on for months, until the approaching winter drives all of these creatures into their next phase of migration or hibernation. While I watch all of these “doings,” I am struck that:

• for each creature, this is “their work”;

• doing that work requires consistent daily attention;

• each creature has an absolute clarity about the work they are to do that day, that moment;

• there is a complete orderliness and framework within which that work is done – individually, collectively, and among the various species.

It causes me to wonder sometimes how few of us share that same sense of clarity of purpose in our lives, and the ability to simply go about fulfilling that purpose each day. I doubt that that hummingbird, bee, insect or butterfly spends too much time trying to figure out their career path, their next job to take on. It all seems pretty intuitive in the land of the hummingbirds. Even the birth → maturity → death cycle, and the evolving changes undergone through these cycles, have that same orderliness and predictability to them.

Why is this not so inhuman life? Some might argue that it is because we are of higher intelligence. Yet, as has been shown many times over in the daily news headlines, higher intelligence does not necessarily make us any smarter. Or maybe it is argued that, as human beings, we have so many more options to consider and explore than does the hummingbird. But if that is so, why do so many spend time in worry searching for THE ONE THING we should supposedly be doing with our lives to fulfill those things that appear to drive our needs. Yet we are usually never satisfied with the interim answers we come up with along our way. Leaving us with a sense of restlessness, anxiousness, and incompleteness to reflect on in the quiet of our evenings.

I suspect that, in truth, the hummingbird has it pretty right. There are a few basic truths of hummingbird life that need to be followed (feeding, pollinating, reproducing, safety, and seasonal mobility), and God-given tools provided to accomplish each of these truths. Whether food comes from our feeder, the flowers in our garden, or from nectar from miles away, is not really of great consequence. Whether shelter comes from a constructed nest or from sitting on a branch under a leaf, it is still shelter. Mission and need accomplished. Sitting in a pretty tree is just a bonus.

It is likely that human beings are way too smart for their own good. We do not lack for our own simple and clear purpose in our life. However, we typically layer so much unnecessary baggage on top of that purpose that clarity has been destroyed. We are so preoccupied with the laundry list of HOW we will live day-to-day that WHAT we set out to do has long been made invisible. Job, income, location, automobiles and houses have become the false purposes instead of the tools to achieve True Purpose. Perhaps we all need to find the hummingbird inside each of us, where True Purpose sits. All of the other considerations are just the mechanics, pliable details best left in God’s hands. We simply need to remain flexible and open to these details as they are brought to us, connecting them all to a renewed clarity of True Purpose.

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