Sanctuaries

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I was staying in my hometown for a two-day retreat, and decided to do what we often do when we go home: visit the place.  There is a wildlife sanctuary called Union Slough near the little town of Titonka.  I had never explored it when it was only a few miles from the acreage where my father served a country church.  With an afternoon of free time, wandering to a place where I could observe wildlife seemed like just the ticket.

The slow drive through the refuge was rich with observations of water birds and wild flowers who were undisturbed by the crunch of gravel under my tires.  Pelicans, swans, egrets, herons, cranes, cormorants, and ducks all calmly feeding, swimming, wading.  Flowers offering their ephemeral, dazzling brightness to the bees, the world.  All of them oblivious to my hungry observation as I tried to file away notations of beauty in a mind usually occupied with TV images or letters in clusters in rows on pages in books, books, books.

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But the birds don’t care one way or the other.  They simply awaken each day with an aliveness, unaware of the pulsing exquisiteness of their lovely curves, unconscious that they are teaching the casual passerby what it means to exist.

And then I drove to Ramsey, the church only 30 yards from the parsonage in which I grew up.  I sat on a pew near the back as some folks do every Sunday.  I wanted to make room for the memories.  Couldn’t get too close to the ghost of my father in the pulpit: steady, steady pastor.  I know the work he did, because I did it too, offering words to the farmers and housewives who unfolded his words during the week inaccurately, and added their own, then came back for more.  Or not.  At least they came, and sang, and prayed.  Gathered as God’s people in their Sunday clothes because that is what you do on the Sabbath.

This is my heritage.  Quiet, subconscious faith pulsing like the white breast of the swan, unaware of its beauty.  Hard-working, kind people who raised the children to trust God, because that is what you do.  That is what you do.

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