Learning to fly

By Kit Carlson

The hawks have been screaming all week in the trees behind my house. The red-tailed fledglings are due to take off and they don’t like it at all. They sound like tortured cats, mewing and wailing and shrieking. Their parents have gone off somewhere, leaving the two younguns alone on the nest to make the next and necessary step in their lives … the step off the side of the nest into the unforgiving air.

The young hawks don’t realize that they have all they need to take the leap. They are quite large now, really almost mature. Their wings are broad and beautiful, and they stretch them as they scream, wave them up and down, as if realizing that their wings are there for something … even if they haven’t quite figured out what.

It’s not a pretty business, learning to fly. When the hawks get hungry enough and lonely enough and irritated enough, they finally do take a plunge into the air. They don’t go far, usually just to a nearby branch, where they bounce and flail with their wings and scream some more. They dig in the bark of the branches for bugs, which might take the edge off their hunger, but really … it’s not enough. They’re going to have to get serious pretty soon. They’re going to have to start hunting for themselves.

It’s not easy to learn to fly, to step off the nest, to risk falling or failing. The project seems to require a lot of screaming. The fledglings make a lot of noise, but it doesn’t bring back their parents. The days of mom and dad feeding and tending and guarding are over. The birds are on their own, for good or for ill.

So they hop around some more, from tree to tree, from branch to branch, complaining all the while. After a few days, the two fledglings find themselves separated, their abortive flights taking them farther and farther apart. I can hear the shrieking and mewing, but it’s fainter now and farther away. In a few more days, the deed will be done. They’ll take off for good, to soar and swirl, to hunt and to feed.

When something new is about to happen, it is natural to want to cling to what was. It is easy to grip the secure sides of the nest and hang on for dear life, screaming your head off how it’s not fair, it’s not right, things should be the way they used to be, why don’t the ones in charge here do something, why are we left alone to figure this out for ourselves, why aren’t we being fed like we used to, and what are we supposed to do with ourselves now, now that everything is different, anyway?

Jesus and Paul describe these shifts as birth pangs, as labor, as the struggle for something new to happen. God brings new things into being and we balk. We struggle. We defy the future, as though we could stop its arrival simply by saying “no.” We want to be cared for, mothered, fathered, nurtured, protected.

But God has other ideas in mind. God never lets us rest. Something new is about to happen, and even as we scream, we stretch and wave in wonder the broad, beautiful wings that God has given us to carry us forward, out of the nest, into the open sky.

The Rev. Kit Carlson, is the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing, Mich. In 2003, she played the apostle Paul on the world’s first internet reality series, The Ark, a project of the Christian humor website Ship of Fools.

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