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A Tale of Two Hawks

Sitting on the cool concrete floor of a chapel in west Tennessee, I am stunned by the blue of the morning sky. Cold gray branches point their gnarling fingers skyward.

An elegant soar of wingspan banks just above the trees. “Hawk,” I whisper. My face upturned looking out the two-story stack of windows. Each clear pane is encased in yellow pine and carries the eyes upward. Like sacred spaces ancient and new, it is designed to open the soul. The Pinecrest chapel windows reveal the surrounding presence of creation and creator.

But I’m the only one to see the hawk. I second guess myself, but know that I saw it. Hawks are among God’s fiercest creatures: beautiful and deadly, graceful predator and partner in the stewardship of creation. They both thin the rodent population and add majesty to the landscape.

In fact it is not unusual to see hawks perched in trees and on sign posts along Tennessee highways. But it is unusual to see one dead.

Two days earlier I did. She had not been dead long. Lying in an open field which stretches out behind Penuel Ridge. Nothing was yet decayed. Only the cruel angle of the bird’s neck offered a clue about her ending. I mourned her passing, and still I was awed by her beauty. There on penuel ridge was a face which bore an image from the creator, rarely seen so close.

Each of the two days in middle and west Tennessee was filled by a round of interviews with pastors. One group was many years from seminary, with more stories about life in ministry than they could remember. The other group was newer to ministry, just at the end of seminary training. Their lives and stories were equally compelling and sacred.

We begin each interview day by describing a process which invites stories. We ask participants to hold sacred space with and among the group. I usually use an image from Parker Palmer, in which he says we can hold each other and call forth deeper knowing from our souls by holding each speaker as if he or she were a small bird in our hands. Hold too loosely and the bird will fly away. Too tight and the bird dies. The image helps us hold each other by listening and attending carefully to each person but without judging, fixing or trying to convert anyone to our own way of thinking.

Each day the pastors tell stories about what shaped them for their work and how they have learned to be ministers. Their stories are powerful and stunning. Human beings are among God’s fiercest creatures: beautiful and deadly, graceful predator and partner in the stewardship of creation, co-creators and bearers of grace. Each face bears an image of the creator, rarely seen so close.

At the end of the day I’m left with a revision of Palmer’s image. It is not a small bird we should imagine holding when we listen to the lives of fellow human beings. Listening to the souls of others is like holding a live hawk. It is sacred, graceful and powerful, even deadly, business. Yet the gift of creating such sacred space for each other is among the creator’s most amazing gifts to us. We must not hold too tightly, nor let each other go.