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?

Spiritual but not Religious

pexels-photo-257037In my experience the declaration that “I’m spiritual but not religious” is often greeted by a collective eye-roll in church circles.   For many of us affiliated with formal church or faith organizations, it can seem a ridiculous thing to say.

What we think we’re hearing is “I’m spiritual but not yet religious.”

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Interstellar Space

Living as I do in an urban environment, it is not usually possible to see many, if any, stars on a regular basis.  Fortunately, my work takes me off the beaten path to places where there is little ambient light to obscure the night sky.  

Most recently, I found myself in the desert of New Mexico at the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert on a silent retreat.  There, after the sun had set, the heavens blazed.

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What kind of person does God want me to become in 2018?

NewYearsResolution1915SecondPostcardChristmas decorations tend to linger around our house until Ash Wednesday.  I’m always reluctant to sweep them away too quickly after December 25th.  After all, there are twelve days of Christmas—it’s a season not a day.  Certainly any decorations associated with the Three Kings have their place in our home through Epiphany.  

Those who know me well will tell you that once I’m done with something, I’m done with it.  Off to Goodwill go clothes I’m not wearing anymore.  Out goes leftover food that hasn’t been touched.  Half drunk glasses of water go into the dishwasher.  Time to move on.  I’m not sentimental about things in the rearview mirror.   Continue reading “What kind of person does God want me to become in 2018?”

Fanfare for the Common Man

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For the last several years my wife and I have marked the passing of one year into the next with a quiet dinner, sometimes with friends, sometimes just the two of us, followed by an 11 p.m. organ concert at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church here in New York City.  The program for the concert varies from year to year, except that the final piece is always Fanfare for the Common Man, accompanied by timpani and gongs.  

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