I was transfixed in church this morning.
I'd love to say it was because I was so grateful to be back in worship with other people (I was) or because it just felt so great to be actually IN a church service (which it was).
No, I was transfixed half way through the service by a bird. It suddenly made an appearance above us and started swooping desperately left and right across the gym roof trying to find a way out.
It was a fairly large starling so the loud sound of its agitatedly whirring wings might as well have been an audible cry of "HELP!"
There were two dangers directly in front of it. The first was the long strip lights all around the top of the walls which must have blinded it close to and which it was repeatedly crashing into and trying to hold onto.
The second danger was the heat lamps set at periodic intervals between the lights. Every time it flew towards one, my daughter and I gasped praying it would not attach to the front bars and get burned.
So distracted was I by the plight of the bird that I finally asked the Lord if I was meant to make something of it. Of course He replied, "Yes."
The bird was trapped even though it was flying around in a large space. It was not in its natural habitat or an environment where it could thrive. It shouldn't have been in there.
Panicked now, it was spending an enormous amount of energy trying the same things over and over again in a frantic attempt to escape or make it work. It rested on top of a heating lamp for a few seconds before swooping across to the opposite wall and canon-ing into a light. I wondered if it wildly hoped that the lights were windows or openings into an outside world he was so heartbreakingly trying to reach.
Shouldn't the service have stopped? Wasn't this the sermon?
The starling was doing everything it knew to do but he didn't have the means. He was dazed and terrified, he had lost all sense of direction. What was needed was for everyone to turns the lights and heaters off, leave the room and open all the double doors to the outside world. So that, finally calmed, he would smell the fresh air, see the light and find his way to freedom.
He was so like us. When we find ourselves trapped in a situation or environment that is not where we're meant to be. So many things imitate light and warmth but they're not what we crave. Staying close to them keeps us trapped and at risk of missing our footing and getting burned.
What we need is to turn off all those artificial sources of light and heat.
To quiet ourselves. Maybe even close our eyes to rest.
To wait for our panicked hearts to calm down and for our breathing to slow.
So that we might ask - Where is it, actually, that we have got to? What is it we are doing over and over again that's not working?
What if we were to wait... watch... listen... breathe?
What can we hear? What can we see? Where is real light coming in? Even if just a tiny sliver.
Where is fresh air coming in? How can we get there?
Because, of course, isn't this Advent? The stopping. The preparing. The course correcting to recognise there is no help in us. And that revelatory moment once we have calmed ourselves sufficiently.
To be able to
that - thank God - real help has already arrived.