One of my favorite bumper stickers reads, “Bark less, wag more!” Borrowing its sentence structure and rhythm, let me create a motto of my own for purposes of this blog: “Flap less, glide more!” We can learn so much by observing the natural world. Take birds. The smaller the critter, the more it seems to flap when it flies. The hummingbird is the posterchild here. Small though it is, it flaps like crazy. According to Google, my go-to source for this kind of information, “The Giant Hummingbird beats its wings 10-15 times per second. The fastest recorded rate is about 80 beats per second on an Amethyst Wood-star Hummingbird. North American hummingbirds average around 53 beats per second in normal flight.” Miraculously, its small, frenetic wings can take the hummingbird as much as 1,300 miles without landing. In fact, all small birds seem to be flappers, not gliders. Yet when we observe the gliders among the avian species, they all seem to be big, like hawks, eagles, or vultures. Take the bar-tailed godwit, a relatively large bird, which has been recorded as flying 7,580 miles from Alaska to New Zealand. “Godwitted,” indeed!
As a sailing aficionado, I first became fascinated with gliding birds while visiting my parents in southeast Florida many years ago. As I strolled along the Hallandale beach, I became aware of sea fowl who after a few flaps would soar for at least the next 20 or 30 seconds. I even wrote a poem about their seemingly laid-back antics, a poem which like a lot of my older possessions have long since divested themselves from me. Here in Boulder, Colorado, we have large red-tailed hawks. They too are soarers—friends of the wind which they have learned can carry them the length of football fields and beyond. What trust and what economy of motion! And during our recent three-week vacation in beautiful Costa Rica, my wife, Cedar, and I were fascinated again and again by following the flight paths of turkey vultures as they cruised out over the Pacific, wheeled in ever-increasing circles, and whiz-glided back toward us like the animal equivalent of self-confident fixed-wing aircraft.
The lesson for me has been clear: If we human beings can spiritually grow into our biggest and best selves, we too will be able to flap less and glide more. In the Twelve Step Program, the equivalent motto is “Let Go and Let God.” Good swimmers know the power of gliding between strokes. This technique helps one go longer and farther in the water with less fatigue. Sailors likewise know the virtue of running free or running before the wind. That wind has carrying power. And in this context we should remember that the Greek for the Holy Spirit is τα' ἅγια τα' πνεύμα (ta hagia ta pnevma), literally, “the holy wind”—an invisible force which can nevertheless be powerful. The moral here is that we should find ways of growing into our capacity to sense the presence of that Holy Wind in our lives and learn to soar on it to the place we are meant to be. So remember: the word for today is “Flap less and glide more!” To quote the beloved Mr. Spock from Star Trek, doing so will enable us to “live long and prosper.”