“Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry, and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand there before me, calling on the name YHWH and wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went away in a rage. ~ 2 Kings 5:10-12
Like many swallow species, Cliff Swallows nest in colonies. This means that they don’t have the same defensive behaviors that most bird species exhibit during the breeding season. Instead of defending a territory from others of their own species, they gather with as many as possible as a form of protection. The factors that would limit the size of the colony are the available resources. Since they feed on insects on the wing, they have numerous options for locations for pretty much any sized group of hungry swallows. And since they have a multitude of fellow swallows to be on guard for danger, they don’t need to do anything terribly fancy with nest building. The reason they are called Cliff Swallows is that they have found that the sides of cliffs are a convenient place to live when you are looking for an easy place to launch your insect-gathering forays. They have also discovered that humans build some of the best “cliffs.” They have a particular fondness for bridges, being over water that is a nursery for what will become lunch is a strong drawing card. Shorelines also provide good building materials for their simple nests, since that is where one finds an endless supply of mud. Slap a bit of mud on a wall in the shape of half a cup, make it just large enough for you and a couple of eggs, and voila, a nest! No fancy weaving of specially chosen fibers, no layers, no colors, just plain old mud.
A mud house would be a hard sell for a human. Sure, perhaps some cute adobe home or a clay tile roof, but just mud flung against a wall would not be appealing. Perhaps, though, we should reconsider the gift of mud. In our mythological imagination, we are formed from the earth, or as the Romans called it, humus. That is why we are called human. It is also the source of the word humility. To be humble is to be of the earth. While it is the opposite of prideful self-centeredness, it is not about weakness, or a type of mild that gets a person stepped on. To be of the earth is to know your strength, to know that you are surrounded by others who are also of the humus and that together we have each other’s backs. It is also to know that the only source of power that we ought to bow to must come from above the earth. So maybe the Cliff Swallows get it right when they take a bit of the earth with them in flight to build a home where they gather in safety and strength.
Prayer: Life-Breather, when we feel we are sinking in the mud, remind us that it plus your breath is what makes us holy, is what grounds us, and is what gives us wings. Amen.