Sometimes it takes a difficult love story. Sometimes the penny drops when things get a little difficult.
Yesterday, we took the kids to a deer park. 55 acres of fields and forest and 14 species of deer. Otters, a wolf pack, wildcats, and all sorts of other wildlife. It was a wonderful place to visit. The sheer diversity of deer was marvellous to see, as was the wonder on my kids’ faces when they were, quite literally, nose to nose with these beautiful animals. The rangers were obviously passionate about their animals, and shared great stories. Five star visit on a great fall day.
And then there was the birds of prey demonstration that didn’t quite go as expected.
The demonstration was held outside in a grass area surrounded by a tall, circular bank of earth, which created an arena-like feeling. We sat on wooden benches and picnic tables, and one of the park rangers stood in the centre, showing off the birds, one by one. The first was a Bengal Owl, with lovely expressive tufts and a lot of charm. Then came the Harris hawk. The ranger told us that, unlike most birds of prey, Harris hawks hunt in packs. They are social birds with strong family relationships. She had raised this particular hawk since he was a few days old, and she said that he had formed a family bond with her. Which was clear from watching them. You could tell that she loved this bird. She looked delighted and proud as he flew wide circles above us, settling from time to time on posts around the perimeter of the arena, his feathers glossy and bright.
Then, something on the other side of the bank caught his eye. He spread his wings wide and took off, flying over the bank and out of sight. At first, the ranger was unworried, saying that she often let him hunt for his own food like this. He was probably just looking for some extra lunch. But, when the hawk failed to return, she climbed up the bank to look for him. A flock of noisy crows from some trees nearby had taken to the air, too, raising a racket and worrying the hawk. Maybe they were also interested in the hawk’s lunch.
“He’s got something down there. I think it must be pretty tasty.”
But the hawk did not return.
The ranger waved her arm and called out to him in a loud squawk, and waited. And called again. Then she started to look worried. Some of the other visitors joined her on the bank to take a look. From where I sat with the kids, I could only see was the circling crows and the ranger standing on the bank, looking away into the distance. Plum squirmed off the bench, so I let him toddle about, his rubber boots shiny red against the green grass. The Spouse, Blue and Beangirl climbed up to look, and Plum made his way around the outside of the bank, so I followed along. Then I could see what was happening. The hawk had landed in one of the deer fields, and he was lying low, shielding his kill. The deer had come close and were standing around him in a circle. Further over, the stag started tossing his antlers into the air, and then the does starting stamping their hooves at the hawk on the ground. These were red deer, tall and muscled, and, at this time of year, hormonal and intimidatingly territorial.
The ranger ran towards the field, but it is was too dangerous for her to enter, so she climbed clambered up the rails of the gate, threw her arms in the air and called out to her hawk with a desperate, beckoning shout. She was calling him home, calling him to leave off the distraction of his rabbit luncheon and return safely to her side. She called and called and my heart ached to hear it. Then the stag turned toward the hawk. We all held our breath, but the ranger kept calling. Whether it was the heavier sound of his hooves or if the ranger’s calling voice got through to him, I do not know, but the hawk took to flight and finally made his way to safety.
Reading lectionary this morning, I hear the call to love my neighbour as myself, and I see that ranger standing on the gate, calling out with all her heart. It was as if her own heart was vulnerable there on the ground, surrounded and oblivious to the danger. But she stood as tall as she could and she called and called and the hawk came home. We often imagine neighbourly love as full of charity or forgiveness or tolerance. But it is also this passionate care. It is the voice that calls each of us back to safety. Love cries out.
I also hear Christ in this passionate calling. Perhaps it is because we are Christ’s neighbour. We are his hand-raised hawk. Perhaps it is because He wants us to know what profound love can look like and sound like. He wants us to know the love that calls beyond all difficulty and suffers with us in our dangerous distractions. Because it is by glimpsing this love and hearing its call, that perhaps we can begin to love as well.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”