Gordon Thomas Ward

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A Passage from Tracing Infinity

Learning to See


       When I was a child, no one saw Bald Eagles. Oh, they could be seen in zoos or stuffed in some museums, but to see one in the wild, as part of everyday life, just didn’t happen. In 1967, the species was listed as endangered, their numbers decimated by loss of habitat and reproductive impairment due to pesticides and heavy metals in the food chain. Even though I was interested in birds, I never used to look for Bald Eagles. Most of the remaining eagles were in Alaska, and to hope for a sighting in New Jersey was considered futile.


       Thankfully, conservation measures have done a great deal for the eagles since that time, and on June 28, 2007, the Interior Department took the Bald Eagle off the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants. Even though the numbers of these eagles have grown considerably since I was a child, it took some time before I spotted one. My expectations had to change. I had to learn how to see them.


       My first eagle sighting in the wild was in 1992 while I was on a tour boat along the coast in Maine. Since then, I have viewed nesting pairs from a kayak in Maine, spotted them above reservoirs in New Jersey, and even viewed one soaring above my home. Not too long ago, I had my closest encounter to date. I had rounded the McCann Mill Road Bridge on my morning run with my dog Aztec. Heading up the dirt road in the lightly falling snow, I spotted, from a distance, a large bird in a tree, which, I presumed, would turn out to be a vulture. It wasn't. Something about it seemed odd to me because vultures usually group together, and this solitary bird was out over the water. It turned out to be a beautiful, mature Bald Eagle! It was content to sit there on its branch overlooking the Lamington River as we walked past it, actually getting within forty feet of it. I was spellbound, but the eagle was not spooked at all. Its gaze was fixed on us, having seen my dog and me, I’m certain, long before we saw it. Eventually, Aztec and I continued our run, leaving that magnificent bird to continue looking for fish in the swollen river. Cresting the rise in the road, I turned back one more time, and I saw the bird lift off from its perch and rise above the trees heading downstream. What a way to start the day!


       I think, for many of us, we encounter God the way we might encounter eagles. There are lots of people who think God is on the endangered list, if He even exists at all. Some consider him to be extinct, categorizing any identification of God in the world as cases of misidentification. Sure, they’ve seen images of Him in churches, a broken, lifeless corpse suspended from a crucifix. Churches can be kind of like God museums where many go to catch a glimpse of the deity that’s supposed to be the creator of the universe. Church is often the place where many people have been exposed to stories and movies about God and even confessed to a faith in him, but, sadly, that’s where it often ends. Other than church, many people don’t expect God to show up anywhere else in their lives. As a result, they don’t look for him. They think the search is futile.


       Well, here’s the good news. God was never on the endangered list, and there are endless opportunities to see him. He blends in very well with his environment, so you need to know how to spot him, but once you know how to look, he’ll be seen more and more often. Take a look and change your expectations because God is all around you. Look! God is in the stranger that holds the door for you in the elevator. God can be seen in the cancer ward wearing scrubs and holding the hands of the patients. God is there in the courage you feel inside of you when you confront the challenging times of your life. He’s in the love and hugs you get from a family member. When you find yourself far from home, he’s the breeze on your cheek that reminds you of the kisses from your children. He’s there in every momentous sunset and sunrise of your life, and he’s also beside you in the midst of your daily routine.


       It doesn’t matter where you are on your path of life. Take a moment and stop. Look around you. Do you see God? He’s seen you since you were born. His gaze has been fixed on you during every step you’ve taken on your journey. He’s there on His post over the river of life as much during your morning run as He is beside you on the commute to work. Look over your shoulder. God is and will forever be aloft, lifting off and soaring above and among us. We should be learning to see.


Copyright © 2013 Gordon Thomas Ward