The re-cycle of life

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The eagle flew past us, just above eye level, grasping in its talons a sizable clump of long grasses it had gathered from the marshes near Vanderbilt Road. The grasses, browned and toughened by winter, streamed out behind the eagle like a banner of hope - hope for a nest that was durable, yet forgiving enough to serve as a summer nursery. The strong, limber grasses were just what the eagle was looking for. Last year, when the grasses were green and alive in the marsh, they had served well as a nursery for ducks and insects and minnows.

Like the birds of the air and grasses of the field, we are transformed in life and in death. Everything about us - our bodies, personalities, and even our sense of purpose - waxes, wanes, rises and falls, as we join the cycles and recycles of creation's dance. Following God's lead - from ashes to ashes, and dust to dust - we fall, only to rise again as part of some divinely mad vision of what is possible if we dare to repent, to change, and believe.

I recently spoke with a friend, nearing 90 years old, who was asking himself the question: "What am I here for?" Each day, it seemed, he needed more care from more people. Because he thought he had no more purpose in life, he felt like a burden to the earth.

Through our very human eyes, we see life's options - along with everything else - decline with age. Purposes and goals that once were viable are no longer realistic. When I was 8 I planned, like lots of boys who grow up in Missouri, to pitch for the St. Louis Cardinals. I hung a tire from a tree in the backyard to serve as my "strike zone" as I practiced my game-winning pitches. At this point in life, it really doesn't matter whether I lacked the talent or the discipline to become a major league pitcher. At my age, the list of things I will never be grows longer every day.

But no matter; one reason is all anybody needs to live, and to live well. Maybe it's all that "lost potential," rather than old age, that eventually drags us down. We easily let regrets, disappointments, and the daily demise of lost opportunities get the best of us. In youth, God's way appears to be just one way among many, but in the end, God's way will be the only way left. I wonder: Is it because we have the potential to fulfill so many purposes in life that we sometimes feel we have no purpose at all?

Scripture says that we sow what we reap; we fear we will someday become useless, destined for the landfill, because we create landfills brimming with things we once thought had a purpose but now find useless. But God sees us, and all creation, differently. Last year's green grasses are this year's nesting materials. As the eagle flew away, I thought of Jesus' teaching about the birds of the air, and the grasses of the field, whose brief spans pass untroubled by worry or regret. I think: O me of little faith.

By the window at the Pioneer's Home, where I and others watched the eagle fly by, was a tray of newly-sprouted seedlings. Each sprout was bending, just like we were, toward the light and the eagle and the grass. We, and the seedlings, might have leaned toward any point on the compass at that moment, but we chose to face the light. And we had no regrets.

• Jesse Perry is the pastor at Northern Light United Church.

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