Meditation written and read by Cathy Tamsberg.
I’ve been watching the pelicans a lot lately. In truth, they are rather gawky-looking birds with bills that seem oversized for their bodies. In addition to this long beak, they have a large throat pouch they use in catching prey and draining water from the scooped up contents before swallowing. Although they are among the heaviest of flying birds, they are actually relatively light because of air pockets in the skeleton and beneath the skin. They can soar to 10,000 feet and commute nearly 100 miles for food. Pelicans are strange birds indeed, but they are beautiful, graceful creatures in flight.
The pelicans have caught my attention because they seem to skim across the waves just a few feet above the water. Then when they see a fish, they fly up into the air and plunge-dive to catch it. It has occurred to me that this method of seeking what we need is a pretty good plan. If we look closely until we find what we want, there is probably a lot of wisdom in then stepping back to view the desired thing from a distance before pursuing it. Seen from a different perspective, the thing we thought we wanted may not be quite all what it seemed to be at short range.
Pondering the pelican is also a good Lenten practice for other reasons. In medieval Europe, this bird was thought to be particularly attentive to her young, to the point of providing her own blood by wounding her breast when no other food was available. As a result, the pelican came to symbolize the death of Jesus and the Eucharist (communion). A reference to this mythical characteristic is even contained in a hymn by Thomas Aquinas, where he describes Christ as the “loving divine pelican, able to provide nourishment from his breast.” In fact, what looked like self-wounding was likely the pelican pressing its bill onto its chest in order to fully empty its pouch, or simply the tendency of the bird to rest with its bill on its breast. But this misunderstanding gave rise to powerful images for the Church.
Like the myth about the pelican, the bread and cup in communion don’t have to be literal body and blood in order for them to have meaning for us. Rather they can be symbols of self-giving love whose purpose is to provide nourishment for all who seek it. Today’s invitation is to determine if there are places in your life where you need more distance to make a wise choice and to consider if what you are seeking is truly a source of nourishment for your soul.
This meditation is from “Lent: Sowing Season, Holy Time,” a collection of daily readings by Associate Pastor Cathy Tamsberg. Each day during Lent, from Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, to Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013, a new excerpt read by a member of the Pullen congregation will be made available. To hear each day’s reading as it is published, subscribe to Pullen’s RSS feed, or listen to the podcast in iTunes.