When all the people were baptized, Jesus also came to be baptized. And while Jesus was praying, the skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended on the Anointed One in visible form, like a dove. A voice from heaven said, “You are my Own, my Beloved. On you my favor rests.” ~ Luke 3:21-22
When you are an avid birdwatcher, it is inevitable that people will start asking you to identify birds that they have seen (often from minimal and sometimes suspicious details). This can be challenging, occasionally frustrating, but generally fun. The other thing that happens, is that folks start sharing information about birds with you, particularly rare bird sightings. So, when a bird with a normal range that extends from Japan to Korea to Russia, with rare forays across the Bering Sea into Alaska decides to wander into the lower forty-eight, it is not surprising that non-birders notice. When that bird shows up about an hour from the birder’s doorstep, everyone gets in on the chase.
Once upon a time, the standard way of learning about a rare bird was word-of-mouth and the best technology available was a phone tree. Today with social media, there are nearly too many ways to discover obscure knowledge quickly. Thus, when the Stellar’s Sea-Eagle decided to check out mid-coast Maine, I knew it within hours of a resident of Five Islands taking a photo of it. By the time a “birding-adjacent” friend shared those pictures on my Facebook timeline that same evening I already had checked the distance and planned on a trip the following morning. When I arrived at sunrise, I was by no means the first birder present, though the bird was not. Around 8:30 there was a commotion. Some people started running to their cars, so naturally, some of the rest of us followed, assuming the best. Someone stopped the lead car to question them. The driver said “We have the bird. We don’t know where it is.” That nonsenscial sentence made perfect sense. So off we went on windy, tiny, small-town roads, until the caravan stopped. As I exited my car, one person was already returning to their car informing us that we were lost. Heading back, I noticed a line of cars turning onto a side road, so I followed. At the end, dozens of birders were already gathered. As I got close, I could hear people talking about the bird, describing where it was perched. It only took a minute or two for me to point my scope in the right direction, getting a great look at this magnificent bird. I left before the fact that this was private property led to a request that the birders leave, which was met with polite compliance.
It is moments like that, which remind me that we are all on the same big team. Everyone shared the same goal of seeing the rarity and helping others see it without creating a problem for the bird or the environment or the people in it. There was not bickering, there was no entitlement, there was no competition, only cooperation. Even those who weren’t going to go to see it, enjoyed it vicariously. Even the folks who were inundated with crazed birders, enjoyed sharing the experience.
When John the Baptist was crying in the wilderness, it attracted a crowd. He preached repentance, but rather than turn people away, it was an invitation. It was an opportunity to see a rarity. When Jesus was baptized, a dove descended. One can only imagine what rare species that was! But isn’t it curious that Jesus even got baptized? What did he need to repent of? Perhaps the point of baptism isn’t only to wash away sin, but it about identity. Traditional baptism language speaks of changing sides from evil to good. But what if we understood that repent literally means to change your mind, to perceive reality in a new way? Maybe we might begin to understand the waters of baptism as a form of renewal, reminding us that we have always been on the same big team, God’s team.
Prayer: Descending dove, fill us with the joy of chasing you and helping others to discover you. Remind us that there is no they, only us. Amen