When I was a youngster, I would sometimes find myself outside in late April or early May when it began to rain. These were not the cold, dismal rains of late winter or the ferocious thunderstorms of mid-summer, but the soft, gentle showers of spring. I would look up into the sky and feel the rain splash against my cheeks and I would take off running out of sheer delight. Somehow, even as a youngster, I sensed that the rain was responsible for flowers and new life all around me—and running through these warm April showers was a way of celebrating the energy and vitality of new life.
All of us cherish the “April shower moments” in life—those moments when life seems joyous and fresh and exciting.
But we also know that, as wondrous as those moments may be, there are other times as well. There are times that are dry and barren, times that seem to parch our very souls.
None of us need help in learning how to live in during those spring-time moments. The challenge is learning how to live in the times of drought.
In the 17th chapter of 1 Kings, Elijah, one of the great prophets of Israel, is called to confront King Ahab and tell him that because of the nation’s sinfulness, God will shut up the heavens and it will not rain again until God gives the command. No more refreshing showers. No more life-giving rains. Only the parched and barren earth.
How will Elijah survive?
Elijah is commanded to travel to the east—and there he will have to learn how to be fed by ravens.
Fed by ravens! What an extraordinary image. When our lives are dry and parched, can we learn to be “fed by ravens?”
Not too long ago, I received a phone call from a man that I have known for a long time. He was married for many years but then, suddenly, lost his wife. Any sense of springtime seemed to have left his heart. He felt sad and lonely and hurt.
On the day that he called, he told me about his great-granddaughter. He talked with me about sitting down with this lively, smiling two-and-a-half-year-old. He listened to her giggle. He watched her put on a show for her delighted audience. And I could hear a new joy in his voice. I could sense that he was learning to be “fed by ravens.”
More than two decades ago, I had a friend who had always worked a meaningful, but demanding job. He woke up knowing that his days would be filled with plenty of things to keep him engaged and busy.
Then he retired and the pre-fabricated structure of his day disappeared.
Ever-resourceful, he found plenty of chores to keep him busy.
But on this particular day, the day that he visited us, he sat in front of our dining room window—a window that opened up onto the woods behind us. Looking out the window, he was mesmerized, by the squirrels. He watched as they barked at one another, chased each other around the trees, and leapt from branch to branch. He must have sat enthralled for an hour or more. As I watched the sparkle in his eye and heard the lilt in his voice, I knew that he was learning how to be “fed by ravens.”
I have to confess that the other day I was feeling a little dry and barren. And so I walked over to Uptown Joe’s, bought a cup of coffee, sat down by the window, and watched as the sunlight danced upon the bright yellow leaves on the trees across the street. I must have spent twenty to thirty minutes nursing the cup of coffee and watching the reflection of the sunlight on the leaves. Sitting there that afternoon, I too was being “fed by ravens.”
My guess is that all of us have had moments when we have found ourselves “fed by ravens.” Maybe it was the quick glimpse of a sunset or the unexpected phone call from an old friend. Maybe you turn on the radio just in time for the final minutes of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or you sit down to savor a cup of coffee and a fresh chocolate croissant. In those bits and pieces of grace—moments of grace that come unexpected and unbidden—you find yourself “fed by ravens.”
Why is it that we aren’t fed by ravens more often? Maybe we are too busy. Maybe we’ve allowed our hearts to become too dry and hardened. Maybe we resent being fed on bits and scraps of grace.
Sometime during his sojourn at the Cherith Brook, Elijah could have turned to God and said, “All of these bits and scraps are for the birds! I want to be ‘fed by lions.’ I want a big, brawny lion to come by and drop off a gazelle or an ibex, something I can really sink my teeth into, something that I can feast on for days!”
There is always a part of us that thinks that we require big, multi-course experiences.
I remember doing a wedding one time where there were a total twenty-one attendants, where the music for the service included a string quarter, a soloist, and a grand pipe organ, where there was a full-stage big band for the reception, and where a rock-and-roll band filled in during the breaks. Everything was big. Everything was grand. But in the couple’s compulsive need for dinner at the Ritz, I wondered, would they ever learn how to be fed by ravens?
I have learned to be exceedingly grateful for the beak-sized bits of grace that come my way. I celebrate those scraps of grace whether they come from chickadees, from cardinals, from ravens—or even from old crows! They are often the very things that sustain me when the spring-time showers are gone, when the ground gets dry and cracked, and when my soul begins to feel a little parched.
Like Elijah, I have begun to understand that when the droughts come, we have to learn how to be fed by ravens.
Gary Robbins is the Senior Minister at Greene Memorial United Methodist Church, visit them at gmumc.org.