Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Christ Watching with Simeon

Rev. James Isaacs
I love going out for walks in areas of natural beauty. I have some favorite places to walk that I visit frequently. And I am always delighted when I come upon something that I hadn't noticed before-- some wildlife or flowers that are newly in bloom.

I have been doing this walking around in nature thing since I was very young, but I really came to appreciate it late in my teens when I had the opportunity to go on a hike with a famous naturalist on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. He knew about everything from the types of grass on the ground to what animals would feed on them. He could elaborate about the different trees and all of the birds that were in them. He was amazing, not just because he knew so much, but because as we walked, he noticed so much.

Later in my life, when I was newly ordained, Doug Girardeau, the rector of my home parish, came out to visit me. One of the things we did during his visit was to go out for walks. He is, in addition to being a wise priest, an experienced birdwatcher, so he welcomed the chance to wander around in nature in a different part of the country. As I showed him the paths that I thought I had come to know so well, I was amazed, like I had been during my youth with the naturalist, at how many birds he noticed and pointed out to me that I would have otherwise missed. I realized that it wasn't just a gift that the famous naturalist had possessed. Birdwatchers learn how to notice, recognize, and know about birds. And the more they birdwatch, the easier it seems to become for them. 

I think that it is the same way with noticing Christ. In our Baptismal Covenant, we say that we will, with God's help, seek and serve Christ in all persons. That seeking takes practice and it is too easy to recklessly wander through life, oblivious to Christ's presence in our midst. We can too often encounter others without noticing Christ, just like walking through nature not aware of so much of what takes patience and practice to see.

Each night when we pray Compline, we say the words from the Gospel according to Luke, "Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised; For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel." Nightly this could be a challenge to us to recall having noticed Christ in others and God in our midst. Sometimes it is as obvious as seeing a family of geese walking across the path right in front of you. Other times, it might be like a soft bird's song in the distance. With intentionality, patience, and practice, we can become more skilled at the joy of noticing and bearing witness to Christ.

The Rev. James S. Isaacs is the Assistant Rector at St. James’, Potomac and is a congregational consultant specializing in assisting churches to work through change and conflict in healthy ways. Share your thoughts and reflections on Facebook.