Wild Advent: Watch a Murmuration

murmuration starlings Dan Dzurisin flickr cc2 crop
© Dan Dzurisin, flickr, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/

The flocks of starlings over the winter create one of the most impressive spectacles of nature seen in the UK. From being a noisy, chaotic, chattering muddle, when it’s dusk, they gather in great numbers to roost. Moving as one, they take to the air, forming a pattern that swirls and shifts in the sky before suddenly all dropping back down to the land.

Starlings do always live in flocks, but it’s over the winter, when their numbers are boosted by starlings overwintering in the UK, that they reach these breathtakingly massive sizes. It’s believed that starlings live in a flock because there’s safety in numbers, and the more starlings there are, the less chance each one has of being taken by an airborne predator. It’s also possible that the heat from thousands of starlings roosting together can make the roost a tiny fraction warmer, which could save lives in extremely cold weather. Tracking starling movements shows that each starling moves around within the flock, trying to give itself the least time on the vulnerable edge as possible. Starlings have split second reactions, so when one starling chooses to change direction, the whole flock can move almost instantly, giving this mesmerizing display in the air.

The best place for you to try to spot a local starling murmuration is near a reed bed, a pier, or failing that, somewhere with trees, hedges, or buildings where you’ve seen starlings roosting. If the day has been bright, they may come in to roost later; if the day has been overcast, they may come in to roost earlier than sunset. Some nights they will come in to roost small group by small group, maybe flying in low, so there will be nothing amazing to see. Murmurations don’t seem to be affected by weather. Nobody is quite sure why some nights the birds put on a display and some nights they don’t. So, you may get lucky, or you may not. I’ll cross my fingers that it’s the former for you!

Journeying

The starlings flying in a group move through the air seemingly as one. They turn on a wingtip, swirling through the sky. They take turns to fly on the outer edge of the flock, the place where it’s more dangerous. As a Christian community, how are we like this flock of starlings? How does this flock of starlings inspire us in our community life? We are called to be one body, relying on each other and caring for each other. Remind yourself of the words in 1 Corinthians 12: 12-27 as you watch the starling flock.

Lord, as the starlings flock together in flight and in rest, show me how to play a full part in my own community, and to be cared for in turn. Amen.

 

Birthing

Often we think of new things being brought to birth as coming from great periods of planning, painful organisational feats, and long waiting. Here are the starlings showing us a different way. They don’t sit down in groups throughout the summer, with a flipchart and markers, looking through endless powerpoint presentations, splitting up into focus groups, to work out the perfect flight pattern for their display. They move instinctively, guided by one another, and make it look effortless. Maybe we should sometimes listen to and be inspired by those who plan on the hoof, who are flexible creators, who may drive us crazy with their lack of a plan or attention to detail, but can free us up to explore new avenues we’d never have gone down otherwise. In Galations 5: 25 we read the words, ‘Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit’- we need to follow the Spirit, wingtip to wingtip.

Lord, as I watch the starlings swirl, moving as one, I pray that your church may be one. Amen.

wild-advent

This post was an extract from Wild Advent: Discovering God Through Creation by Rachel Summers (Kevin Mayhew, 2017), 92 pages, £7.99. Used here by permission of the publisher.

Litter: a fresh perspective on life under the leaves

Autumn leaves
© Ruth M. Bancewicz

Next time you take a walk through a forest, sit down on the fallen leaves, rustle a hole in the top layer, breathe deeply, and take in the aroma of fresh earth. Sterilised soil smells somehow wrong to our noses –  it lacks the homey feel of childhood dens and freshly ploughed fields. But on productive land, like an ancient forest or well-tended farm, it smells right. Our noses know what to look for – the rich earthy scent of microbial decomposition. Continue reading

Wild Lent: Discovering God Through Creation

sky-panorama-with-clouds-1479164-1598x485 Philippe Ramakers freeimages
© Philippe Ramakers, freeimages

Cloud watching

I love the sky, how it’s always moving and changing. Everyone has access to a little bit of sky, and no matter how messy and chaotic our lives can get on the ground the clouds blow past regardless Continue reading

A Reflection for Lent

passion-of-the-christ-king-of-the-jews
John 19:19-22 – The King of the Jews. Image source: http://jesusisgod316.blogspot.co.uk/

As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means ‘the place of the skull’). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him:

this is jesus, the king of the jews.

Matthew 27:32-37

Some of the most beautiful things in the world have an ugly side. I was recently Continue reading

Re-Joining the Choir: Why people are the helpers, not priests, of creation

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© Ruth M. Bancewicz

One of the main ideas on this blog over the last couple of years has been the concept that all creation praises God. This is a recurring theme in the Bible, and so is the idea that we join in with creation’s praise when we worship God ourselves. The theologian Richard Bauckham, who is best known for his book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, has been an important voice on this subject. A kind friend sent me one of his articles recently, and I wanted to share some of the highlights from it here. Continue reading

Worshipping God with the Lichen: Reflections in a Scottish Rainforest

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© Ruth Bancewicz

It can be easier to notice things away from home, when we are relaxed and surrounded by unfamiliar sights in an exotic location. But sometimes the same wonders at there in our own back yard: old familiar scenes that we haven’t taken in because we see them every day. GK Chesterton was a great advocate of intensive observation, and he invited his readers to take a fresh look at things that might be taken for granted. His motivation, he says in his self-deprecating English way, was being too lazy to travel – but mine is wonder. Continue reading

Guest Post: Consider the Ant – the story of insects in science and theology

ant leaf cutter Josh More flickr 31599107203_18b285ed95_o
© Josh More, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

No animal or plant group can quite match the insects for their diversity, profusion (in numbers of species as well as numbers of individuals), adaptability, mobility – or in a word, their ‘evolvability’. Albert Schweitzer, the great organist, theologian and humanitarian, said about the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, the apotheosis of the Baroque style, if not music as a whole: “…Bach is… a terminal point. Nothing comes from him; everything merely leads up to him”. Something similar could also be said of insects. Whether swarming, creeping, burrowing, swimming; armoured, slimy, spiky, fury; green, brown, transparent or iridescent; insects fill and adorn our planet like Continue reading