Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"Why Do People Say They Love God But They Don't Feed His Birds?"

An elderly lady in East Pittsburgh, HK, once said those words to Father Paul and me.  

taken from the internet

Such a sweet thought and such a serious and maybe even a disappointing thought at the same time. Of course the Lord said that He feeds the birds of the air.  So, how could it be important to feed His birds? How did she equate loving God with feeding His birds? Why did she think that people didn't love God?

May I tell you a little about her....

She was someone who lived alone in a studio apartment, very close to an old defunct steel mill, very much alone.  She had a very poor memory, and needed help to care for herself. A widow who regretfully could not live in the same city as her only nephew, one might think that she would be hopeless. Instead, her love for God and others encouraged us while we lived in East Pittsburgh too.

Father Paul visited her regularly.  Together they would sit and chat.  She would confess her faith, and how much she loved Christ.  In her condition, one would think that she would be complaining about loneliness or her poverty. Perhaps she did. But she did something else as well.  

In her little, and what some would call a pitiful world, she took on the role of being a co-worker with God.  Her life seemed so poor and small to us. Being so humbled in this life, however, she gained great fulfillment in knowing that she and God were in on the same project of bird feeding.

Admittedly, which one of us would aspire to such a lifestyle?  I am certain that she did not. Unexpectedly, her life and faith grew to be an inspiration to us.  Father Paul enjoyed his visits with her and would tell me about them.  He would return refreshed and eager to share with me the best parts from their conversations to also bring a spiritual joy to our home. 

So much to be gained from feeding birds.

.....and speaking of which

We have really "different" birds here in NZ. Different from our North American point of view.  Black Swans.  Myna Birds. Colorful tropical birds too.  There's a chicken like bird whose scientific name is Porphyrio, porphyrio. 

Since I was a child, I've always wanted to see a Myna hear one. They are prevalent here. They eat the crumbs that we toss in the back yard and each and every time I throw them our crumbs I can hear HK say "Why do people say they love God but they don't feed His birds?"

The Myna imitate things they hear...

Myna Bird in the backyard 

One Myna in the neighborhood learned to imitate the car alarm of one of our neighbors.  Really.  We were indoors the first time we heard it call.  We couldn't understand why no one would go out to turn off the "alarm". I couldn't tell why it didn't sound like a car alarm exactly.

The next time we heard the "alarm", it was in a tree. 

I thought I would have to keep listening to that to this day, but I guess that bird forgot that sound, or perhaps moved to another neighborhood...maybe a cat got it.

The Black Swans are in our neighborhood too. They are at the Park near our house. In Australia they sell for about $1,400.00 for one.  I looked it up.  

We can find a whole flotilla of them at the park just a few minutes walk from our house. I would love to take you on a tour of that park with it's Dynotopian ferns and trees that make one think he is on a journey to the center of the Earth. 

I haven't gotten used to the Black Swans yet. They seem sinister. Those red beaks are too much for me. Still I enjoy them when I go to the park.  I am overdue for a trip to that reserve.

Porphyrio, porphyri has a more common name... Pukeko.  He runs on top of the water when he's anxious or mad.  I didn't think of trying to get a shot of that activity.

Pukeko, as easy to photograph as any chicken

Its name, Porphyrio x 2, sounds so familiar doesn't it? That's because there was a famous elder whom Father Paul had met in Greece, the Elder Porphyrios. The name is a reference to a regal purple (from the Greek). Reading about this bird in the informational stands at the park was like a funny little eyeopener.  It made us all smile and gave me the feeling that we really haven't gone too far. We're just in another place in the hands of God.

The life of Elder Porphyrios is worth reading. There is a book which is becoming more popular in Greek -Orthodox bookstores, of his humble autobiography and sayings called, Wounded by Love

Elder Porphyrios had many, many spiritual gifts. He had an acute understanding of how near God is to us. He was a great example of trust in God and through immense trust, he revealed to common people such as myself how God blesses our efforts to be simple, humble and focused on Him. Elder Porphyrios believed that God blesses us with knowledge of Him and great love.

Elder Porphyrios talked with Father Paul's grandfather too.  The way that Father Paul tells it, he was living with his grandparents in Athens for the better part of a year when he was between High School and College.  He would hear his grandfather sighing the prayer "God forgive me" many times throughout each day.  Father Paul believed his grandfather's sincerity and thought he might like to meet the Elder Porphyrios. Papou agreed.

from the website of the Hellenic Orthodox
Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa

Having heard about Elder Porphyrios from Father Nicholas Palis (at the time also single and not yet ordained), Father Paul, then only 18 years old, set out to find the great Elder. Because he had in mind to take his grandfather with him, he made a practice run. Then he finalized his plans with Papou.

It wasn't easy, but they managed it by taking a couple of buses through Athens. Papou, getting on in years, tired easily. The Elder upon seeing them, asked Papou to go on a walk with him.  They talked alone for awhile, while the rest of the pilgrims, Father Paul included, waited for them to return.  As long as I have known Father Paul, he has marked this as one of the highlights of his life.

During that encounter, Father Paul learned the importance of Loving God more each day. It is one lesson he brought home with him and into our lives as a family.  "Not easy to love God?" the Elder said. 

A few words written about this Holy Elder from the website of the Patriarchate of Alexandria and all of Africa:

"The one who comes to me
I will by no means cast out"
(Jn. 3:37)

Elder Porphyrios throughout his whole life received all those who came to him; becoming, like St. Paul, "All things to all people in order to save them."

All kinds passed by his humble cell; both holy ascetics and sinful thieves, Orthodox Christians and people of other denominations and religions, insignificant people and famous personalities, rich and poor, illiterate and literate, lay people and clergy of all ranks. To each one he offered the love of Christ for their salvation.

The Love of Christ for our salvation.

We strive to love God while at the same time, if we are just a little open to Him, we can't help ourselves but want to strive even more. Especially, once we encounter the beauty of Him. And yet we feel that we are always on the very first step of approaching Him. Elders like Father Porphyrios bring us closer to our own encounters with God. They help us to see that seeking God is a good thing. Following his fine example, we are on a viable path, one which will bring us to blessed destinations.

The Elder himself lived a life of repentance to his last day never resting in his vigilance. He passed from this life in 1991. He was known to say, " The person who belongs to Christ turns everything into prayer", and "When we pray for other people, we should say, 'Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me'".  He believed that he needed the same ministry that he was offering to others, never less. 

"The one who comes to me
I will by no means cast out"
(Jn. 3:37)

Being mission minded carries with it the insight that we too are just like those whom we have come to meet.  We all desire God's mercy. Those who want to be with us in faith feel the need for God's care on a daily, even hourly basis.  So do we for ourselves.  

If we thought we were special, or more than ordinary, we would surely be losing something essential: the genuine witness of waiting on our Lord.  It is however a bit of a challenging task for us as we come from "Up Over",  such a land of plenty. Our family must give up in order to gain. But we know that like HK who showed her love for God by feeding His birds, through the kindness of others, the people here, along with ourselves, will come to understand the same thing that we learned from HK's birds... 

The birds of the air...  like the people of the earth, God knows.  

No comments: