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Let the desert and the wilderness exult! Let the Arabah rejoice and bloom like the crocus! Let it blossom profusely, let it rejoice and sing for joy! The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon. They will see the glory of YHWH, the splendor of our God. ~ Isaiah 35:1-2

Migration comes in waves. One day, the migrants are absent, the next the trees are dripping with them. It is not like it is a desert the rest of the time, but the occasional overabundance makes the population of local resident species seem meager, and the handful of winter residents are barely enough to remind us of the joy of a fallout. That is what birders call a big migration day. It is as if birds are falling from the sky, which it nearly the case. Weather is a major factor in determining the volume of migrants on the move. Clear skies and strong winds from the south provide ideal conditions. Couple that with a cold front just to your north and if the timing is right, there will be spots where you can’t identify all the birds because of the volume and variety. It is a wonderful problem to have. Days like that will leave you sore with warbler neck from spending hours looking at treetops and give the urge to make a century run (attempting to list 100 birds in a single day). Birders are already an excitable bunch, but even the uninitiated thrill to the beauty of a fallout.

If you have never experienced it, you may think of a day with a couple dozen species of warblers, with a single tree hosting a half dozen species of these colorful songsters as a fanciful tale of exaggeration. Or you might believe that it is just an imagined hope. But if you have had a taste of it, you might just think of it as a foretaste of heaven. And I mean that somewhat literally. When we relegate all understanding of heaven to something that happens after this earthly life, we are forced to hold on to a difficult sort of hope. We end up trying to hold on to unprovable descriptions of what we suppose to be eternal bliss. But there is a reason that we have the expression “heaven on earth.” We should be looking for those mystical, sublime experiences that feel so good that we recognize them as heaven breaking in.

The first step to being surprised by heaven here and now is expecting the surprise. We may not be able to control the breaking in, but we can anticipate and welcome it. That gets us seeking, which leads to the second step, developing ears to hear. Whether the list is a dozen species or a hundred, it is quite likely that only maybe a third of the birds were seen, the rest were heard. It takes lots of practice and lots of patience to learn bird songs, but once you do, the invisible become known in their singing, even though most will remain invisible behind the foliage and in the canopy or underbrush. When you learn the bird songs it opens up a previously unknown world, making something imagined for the by and by a reality in the here and now. Perhaps that is what Jesus was talking about when he said that those with eyes to see and ears to hear will recognize the kindom of heaven on earth.

Prayer: Descend Heavenly Dove, enhance our spiritual perception, and blow us away with your abundant presence. Amen.


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