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By: Rev. Nan Smith
A couple of weeks ago I returned from visiting my adult son in Maryland. He is a young professional who has just purchased his first house. It has been a big step for him. The house he bought is a great house — a colonial, with four bedrooms, that is in an established neighborhood, complete with mature trees and a large yard. He is very excited to be a new homeowner.
Plus, his home comes with a definite bonus! Uniquely his own. His house is home to a whole bunch of turkey vultures. They can be seen roosting in his pine trees or on his roof most every evening and morning. No one else in the neighborhood has a home with that particular feature.
My son and I think it is pretty awesome!
But I’m sure others would probably not agree with us. I get it! For many, turkey vultures are not seen as the ideal housemates. They do not add to the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood. Face it, as far as birds are concerned, turkey vultures are certainly not ranking high on appearance with their scaley, featherless, red heads. And, of course, some of the behaviors of these birds are less than pleasant like regurgitating the dead stuff they have eaten when they feel threatened. All in all, these birds are not on anyone’s top ten list of attractive birds they want to see.
Definitely, there is a lot about them that can cause aversion or repulsion in the average person.
However, I would challenge you on that. How can you not see their beauty when these birds take flight and ride the thermals of the rising warm air? They are exquisite as they soar. Captivating, really. To watch them, is to witness such grace as their outstretched wings effortlessly glide through the sky. Turkey vultures in flight are indeed of the sacred.
Repulsive or beautiful? Disgusting or sacred? I suppose it all comes down to what you are going to focus upon; what you are willing to see; what you will look beyond. All creation has value and beauty. You just have to be open to it.
Back in 2019, I attended a conference with some other pastors in Minneapolis, Minnesota. One evening, after supper, I found myself walking back to our night session with another pastor. We were enjoying the pleasantness of the early evening. As we walked, suddenly the pastor said to me “wait for a moment, there’s something I need to do.”
I turned to see her kneeling next to a homeless man who was sitting along the edge of the sidewalk, holding his cardboard sign asking for help. I heard her tell him that she didn’t have any money to give, but if he would like she would be willing to pray for him. This man, who so many had walked by and not noticed, was more than a little surprised, but said yes and thanks! This pastor then asked him to tell her what he needed prayers for; to tell her what was on his mind; to tell her the worries he was carrying. Again, I noticed such a look of surprise upon his face, even as he told her what he was fearful about. When he finished, we all joined hands and this pastor prayed with this man. It was a tender and sacred moment.
To be seen and valued. To be seen and valued in the beauty each of us carry. To be seen and valued in our common humanity. Whether it is a turkey vulture, a homeless person, or anything else that brings us discomfort, to be able to look for and expect to find beauty is where the hope for a better world lies.