The Cathedral of St. Philip - Atlanta, GA

Soaring with the Spirit

An article for the Cathedral Times
by Dan Murphy, Director of Communications

Last month, I spent a week at Camp Mikell, as I’ve often been fortunate to do. I was serving at Youth Camp – the week for high school students – and was enjoying the wild times that only summer camp can produce.

In the midst of all the youthful energy, there was a moment early one afternoon that has stuck with me. On a walk through camp, I paused at the top of a staircase to take a look at the buildings and courtyard in middle camp – a collection of adjoined buildings that are the center of camp life. There’s the Old Dining Hall and the “new” Dining Hall (a mere 42 years old!), the rocking chair porch and the four square courts. But rather than boisterous echoing of a hundred teenagers, all was still. The campers were in other parts of the property, gearing up for their next activity. It was silent. The hot sun of early summer shone down on the pavement and pines, and not a needle or leaf moved an inch. The blue sky sat cloudless, a canopy to the lush green below.

And then something caught my eye. Three hawks, midway across the valley. A good ways from me, but I could see them clearly. Two of them flapped their wings above the treetops, dipping occasionally to get a closer look at a mouse or maybe a snake below.

The third hawk, however, seemed to be floating. Wings spread wide, she wasn’t just hovering, she was floating up. Round and round she soared, slowly but ever higher, away from the trees and her companions for a broader vantage point, or a look down the valley, or maybe just a joy ride.

This hawk, it seemed, had caught a thermal – a tube of warm air, rising from the surface into the atmosphere. Hot air rises! And so, birds use thermals to soar to higher elevations without exhausting much energy, like riding a circular elevator in the sky. I was particularly struck by the power of that movement – how in a scene that seemed so still, an invisible force was pushing this bird up, up, up.

I’ve often experienced that same feeling in my own life: in times when life has felt still, or stale, or stagnant, the Spirit of God gently pushes me onward. Or when I’ve been stuck – anxious about something at work, or stressed about some loved one, or feeling overwhelmed by the issues of isolation and division that plague our nation and the world right now – my first instinct is often to look inward. If I can just muster up enough courage, my mind says, then everything would be alright. If I could just say the right words – or harder yet – if I could just be the right person, then I’d be out of this rut. Or this problem would be fixed. If I just tried a little more, pulled myself up by the bootstraps and dug my heels in a little deeper, then we’d be out of this mess. That’s how my thinking often goes.

Well, my experience is that my action can only take me so far. Sure, doing the hard work of relationship-building improves my connection with others. And hard work with others helps us achieve great things. But at some point, the Spirit carries me. It’s a bit like that hawk. Flapping her wings will get her into the sky. But there’s no way she’d soar above the mountaintops on her own power. She needs that lift from something she can’t see, but surely knows is there. She trusts that simply by holding her position, and availing herself to the thermal currents, she will rise to splendid heights.

I pray, then, that we can each do the same. That we can trust that the Spirit is present in our lives, guiding us. Where is God quietly showing up in your life? How does the Holy Spirit move you today?