What can penguins teach us?

Prior to my recent trip to Antarctica, I confess that I had not given penguins much consideration.  Not beautiful. Smell bad. Can’t fly.  

Really, what was the point of a penguin?

Now, however, I have a new appreciation for the penguin.

Chinstraps Heading to the Ocean
Photo Courtesy of Evangeline Warren

As our ship lay at anchor off Deception Island in the Antarctic Ocean, we looked at its black volcanic rock-covered beach where we planned to make our landing.  From a distance one could see tens of thousands of chinstrap penguins marching in and out of sea. White breasts headed in. Black backs headed out.

Once on the shore, the sound of the birds cheerfully chatting and squawking at each other soon distracted from the smell.  We made our way up the beach, to the nesting area, where we observed what could best be described as the shift-change between parents.

While one parent tends the nest and their chicks, the other parent makes its way down to the sea to fish for their offspring.  During the fishing expedition, taking the penguin as far away as 50 miles, the penguin gorges on food, returning to relieve its mate and feed its offspring.

After a brief check in and handoff, the other parent heads down to the sea for its turn to fish.  The remaining parent takes its place on the nest and supervises the chicks. Male and female penguins share this responsibility equally.

Watching well over 50,000 penguins do this over several hours, I began to reconsider the penguin.  Several things impressed me then and remain with me still.

Penguins are loyal.  Penguins commit to a mate and then their offspring.  Moreover, a penguin can find and recognize both its mate and its chicks amongst tens of thousands of others, even after wandering miles away on land and sea.

Loyalty
Photo Courtesy of Evangeline Warren

Penguins are humble. Not known for its beauty, vanity is not a vice in which a penguin can afford to indulge.  It sits in its own guano patiently waiting and tending its offspring while its mate fishes.  

Penguins are determined.  As a penguin makes its way single-mindedly back and forth between the ocean and its nest, it encounters many obstacles.  Rocks, icebergs, predators, rain, sleet, snow, other penguins. And yet, the penguin presses on in its mission to take care of its family.

Penguins are brave.  The penguin world is full of bigger and meaner beasts than they are.  Leopard seals stalk the shoreline as penguins dive into the sea to fish.  Skua birds cruise the skies looking for a moment to swoop in and snatch a chick.  Yet the penguin goes about its business with courage.

Loyalty. Humility. Determination. Bravery. 

These are not choices a penguin makes.  Evolution has made them necessary characteristics for their survival. 

However, they are choices we can make.  

What would our world be like if we all chose to be unfailingly loyal, humble, determined, and brave?

O Canada!

220px-Flag-of-Canada-Vanier-ParkLast week I had occasion to be in Toronto on business with a colleague to attend a meeting with our colleagues at the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund of the Anglican Church of Canada.

As we gathered to start our meeting, our host began by acknowledging the original inhabitants of the land upon which we were meeting.  He spoke a little about the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations or Iroquois Confederacy) and the Huron-Wendat.  For me, it was a startling and embarrassing moment. Continue reading “O Canada!”

God’s Jewels

alcyonewebsterikeulemansAnyone who knows me will attest that I am fundamentally a city person.  Having lived in New York City on and off for over 30 years, my instincts are well-honed and distinctly urban.  I can emerge from the subway and my sense of direction is intact. I know the most likely corners on which to catch a taxi during rush hour.  My knowledge of animals is limited to the best kinds of pets for apartments.

So, when I recently found myself on safaris in Zambia and Botswana, I was out of my element.  Unending open space. Myriad shades of green. Where do you even begin to look?

It was disorienting.

Continue reading “God’s Jewels”

Fog Over the Promised Land

stock-photo-17181584-mountain-manLast Thursday afternoon, just before heading home to New York, I stood on Mount Nebo in Jordan and looked west to the Promised Land.  Mount Nebo is where Moses stood at the end of his life, having led the Israelites in the desert for forty years, and died.

Today there is a modern Catholic church built over the remains of an ancient Byzantine church on Mount Nebo.  The mosaics from the Byzantine church have been beautifully restored and are displayed as part of the modern church’s design.

Continue reading “Fog Over the Promised Land”

“Do not be afraid…”

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Today I find myself in the Holy Land—on a pilgrimage.  This is not my first pilgrimage, nor, do I suspect, will it be my last.  Moreover, this is my 5th or 6th time visiting many of the sites on this trip.  Yet, each visit is a little different.  Each visit challenges and rewards me in unexpected ways.

This time I have the luxury and challenge of not being the group leader.  I can enter into the visit as a true pilgrim.  

What does it mean to be a pilgrim? Continue reading ““Do not be afraid…””

The Water and Sanitation Mystery (Part Two)

In last week’s installment of “The Water and Sanitation Mystery” my colleague
IMG_0594discovered that, to his alarm, the project had not gone as planned. Household latrines had not been built and the one public latrine that had been built was not in use.  Most concerning, however, the community was not capturing and protecting its clean water supply.

Trying to get to the bottom of the mystery, my colleague convened a meeting of the community Water and Sanitation Committee, whose responsibility it is to manage the project.  

To them the explanation is obvious. Continue reading “The Water and Sanitation Mystery (Part Two)”

The Water and Sanitation Mystery (Part One)

IMG_0607A trip report from one of my colleagues at Episcopal Relief & Development recently crossed my desk.  I find these reports extremely helpful in understanding the challenges my co-workers are facing as they visit our programs around the world.  Each of these reports is fascinating.  

However, this one was exceptional: it contained a mystery.   Continue reading “The Water and Sanitation Mystery (Part One)”

The Kumari’s Blessing (Part Two)

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Author’s note: The second part of this story reminds us that, even after the most terrible of disasters, we can find hope and healing. I hold onto this as we count the losses of the most recent series of tragedies we are enduring.

The morning after we received the Kumari’s blessing, my daughter and I set out to visit the epicenter of the massive earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, 2015.  The memory of the Kumari’s gaze calmed me as we sat in traffic making our way out of Kathmandu. Continue reading “The Kumari’s Blessing (Part Two)”

The Kumari’s Blessing (Part One)

IMG_0730Just short of a year after the April 25, 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal, my daughter and I landed in Kathmandu.  We were there to visit the recovery programs that Episcopal Relief & Development was supporting.  Before leaving Kathmandu to tour the epicenter of the destruction and our work, my daughter and I took an afternoon to visit the Living Goddess—the Kumari—and to receive her blessing. Continue reading “The Kumari’s Blessing (Part One)”

The Old City of Jerusalem

Via_dolorosa_JerusalemThe Old City in Jerusalem is chockablock with thin places.

Countless worship and pilgrimage sites for the three Abrahamic faiths are packed within one square kilometer.  

I find it all overwhelming.  For the most part I have not experienced the transcendent power of being in a thin place when I am in the Old City.   

There is one exception to this.

Continue reading “The Old City of Jerusalem”