I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kathleen Schwab's reflection, "Love God Like a Falcon."
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
(Psalm 63:6 NIV)
The relationship between God and a human being is unique, and describing it or making analogies can be tricky. After all, it is essentially unlike any other relationship we have with anyone or anything else. Over the last few years, I’ve found something that unexpectedly offers some insights into the human/God relationship: I’ve been studying birds of prey, and the falconers who work with them.
A process called “manning,” used in training hunting falcons, presents some intriguing parallels to the Christian life. Manning builds the bond between the human and avian partners, and makes them a strong team in the field. This type of training is available to us in our Christian lives too: I think of it as “God-ing.” It is something that God offers us at any time, and it will make us far more effective in finding our way through the unpredictable challenges of life.
To understand this analogy, you first have to understand what a unique relationship people have with their trained birds of prey. The issue is the falcons’ freedom: they can fly away if they want, go live on their own in the wild. While hunting, falcons climb hundreds of feet in the air: with the human earth-bound far below, the birds cannot be forced to return. Falconers win their birds over by demonstrating a human partner’s value, making landing yet again on the falconer’s glove the most attractive option.
To prove his or her value, a falconer takes the bird to a good spot, sends it high in the air, and then flushes out some game from the surrounding bushes. While the trained falcon gets lots of prey sent into range, the solitary falcon may have to wait patiently for hours until one animal happens to be in the right place. Most falcons quickly realize how much better life is with a human hunting partner, and choose to return again and again.
A trained falcon is an amazing thing: a wild creature that develops a working partnership with a human, yet retains its wild nature.
Here is where manning comes in as a part of the training regimen. Manning means falcons spending time with humans while not hunting. Falconers may do some manning on a rainy day when flying isn’t possible: the falcon spends the day in the house among people, sitting quietly on an arm while the human works on the computer, does chores, or watches T.V. The bird gets the chance to observe the ways of its flightless hunting partner on an ordinary day. Manning can look like nothing much is going on, but if done regularly, both falcon and falconer will have a much better sense of how to read each other’s body language, and how to respond quickly to each other’s signals. Manning builds both understanding and trust.
God-ing is spending time with God outside of church attendance and structured devotions: it means continuing attention towards God while we live regular life. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you.” (John 15: 4) God's attention does not leave us, although God has given us the freedom to ignore it. But if we spend time simply paying attention to God, to how God operates in our lives, if we study God as a mystery worth knowing, we will reap the rewards of a relationship like no other.
Like falcons, human beings have amazing freedom. God made us, but we can fly away from God, and choose to live life on our own. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45 NIV) We are not forced to believe in God in order to survive, or to have access to all the good things in the world. But if we decide to live under God's guidance, so much more will be available to us. God can direct us: God can help us to do more than we could ever hope to do alone.
But as for me, the nearness of God is my good. (Psalm 73:28)
Kathleen Schwab is a lifelong lover of God, a literature teacher, and a wife and mother. Together with her book partner Therese Kay, she is the author of Messages from God: An Illuminated Devotional, a five week devotional inspired by the synergy of words and art in medieval illuminated manuscripts. Visit her online at MessagesFromGodDevotional.com