Catching the Eagle: Detecting Spiritual Opportunity

Catching the Eagle: Detecting Spiritual Opportunity


Wow! That must have been a hawk?”  That was the first thing that went through my thoughts as a large bird flapped grandly and landed on the ridge of a roof.  It was about 7:30 a.m., I’d just finished my jog, and was absent-mindedly trudging up a quiet street.

“He’s bigger than a hawk.  Could he be an eagle?”   I stepped quietly closer.  The bird’s head was white.   I’d seen pictures of this bird countless times.  “That’s a Bald Eagle!”   He eyed me coolly as I stood staring.

“Now what?”  I thought. “ I don’t have a camera…but I could take a chance, run home, get my phone, and hurry back.”  It felt like a risk to leave.   I walked with studied casualness for several steps. Then I broke into a run.  I just left the front door open as I raced inside and rummaged for a phone.

“It’ll be a miracle if I can photograph this.”  Back on the sidewalk I could see that the eagle was still perched on the roof.  I didn’t wait to get close.  I clicked off frame after frame as I walked to where I’d stood before.

The eagle let me take about five photos and then unfurled his great wings and lifted off.  I swung around trying to track him, clicking the camera recklessly.

What Did This Mean?

I stood at the kitchen counter and retrieved the photos.  The happy surprises kept coming.  The shots of the eagle in flight were the most gratifying for me.   The glowing thought hit me: “I’ve had a really good morning!”  I breathed a prayer.  “Thank you, Lord!”

The prayer felt strange.  I have in fact, seen a Bald Eagle in the wild, quite by accident, one other time.  I thought soberly, “I ought to thank myself too.  I did manage to get some good pictures, if for no other reason than to post on Facebook.”  My reflections turned a little sinister: “The national bird just perched on the house of a liberal progressive family.  I wouldn’t be the first minister to interpret a natural event as a sign from God.”   By act of inner will, I brought  that line of thinking to a halt.

“Maybe there’s nothing at all grand here except a moment of beauty…which I did manage to capture.”  I was thinking that at the very least there was a personal lesson for me.  “You ought always to have the camera ready, Doug.   In fact, I ought to act quickly on eagle landings of all types in life without endless analyzing and stalling.  Just do it.  That’s the lesson here.”

Then it came up again.  I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.  “Jesus was masterful at making the most of opportune moments.”    He could turn a pop-up situation, say a cynical trick question,  or stranger’s plea and answer with something so compelling that we’ve remembered it for centuries.

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

I thumbed through Mark’s gospel.  In episode after episode, Jesus starts out on a journey whose purpose unknown, someone approaches him with a need or challenge, Jesus answers the challenge, we never figure out what happens to the journey.  Think of some of those unforgettable remarks that Jesus threw out off the cuff that take longer for us to memorize than it took for Jesus to invent them.  “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s,” (Matthew 22:15-22)  “Leave the dead to bury the dead.  But as for you, come follow me.” (Luke 9:57-62)

© José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro / , via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus was once spending time with notorious sinners and several in the religious establishment raised objection about the kinds of people Jesus associated with.  To that, Jesus tosses off three interrelated parables that probably rank among the best oral stories ever told. (Luke 15) These stories were perfectly tuned to slyly skewer the haughty attitude of the religion leaders.

Set-up and Smash

Jesus’ adeptness in the moment reminds me of the beach volleyball players whose sport is a series of set-ups and slams.  One player deftly places the volleyball in just the right zone on her own side of the net so that her teammate, already airborne, can smash the ball into the opposite court.

By Sander van der Wel from Netherlands (Beach volleyball) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Transferred to Jesus’ ministry, God—or better, God’s providence–quietly steers events and people into a perfect configuration, so that Jesus may make a smashing response.

I don’t want to overstate.  Sometimes it’s clear that forethought guides Jesus’ movements.  Luke 9.51 announces Jesus intentional turning towards Jerusalem and the clash that will take place there.  The tack towards the cross was no pop-up situation.   But granting that Jesus does see ahead, I’m wanting to emphasize that much of his ministry came to him.

My eagle experience speaks to me as a parable of the way Jesus interacted with the world around him.  He must have been endlessly attentive to happenings in his awareness that were God-directed set-ups for a faithful and effective response.

Our Lives: The Arena of God’s Activity

I can do that.  I’m guessing that you the reader can do it as well.  We cultivate a practice of continually dragging our thoughts back to a simple question.  “Where is God in this situation?”  “If I survey what’s going on around me, what here might God care about?”  “What skills or resources do I possess that might be particularly useful for nudging forward God’s reign in my circumstance?”

I thought that I was extraordinarily fortunate to have a Bald Eagle flap right into my sight line and to stay perched long enough for me to capture the moment on film.  But on second thought, extraordinary opportunities to reach out, to help out, to say what makes a difference, just might be winging their way into my world all of the time.

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