I read recently that the albatross is a bird that has baffled science since the 1880’s in its ability to soar for long periods of time while expending very little energy. The albatross is a very heavy bird that relies on strong winds just to get it airborne. Once up, it uses a flight pattern called dynamic soaring, which involves 4 phases of repetitive up and down maneuvers, dipping nearly to the waters’ surface, all in the face of winds exceeding 30 km/hr. When I have watched videos of these incredible birds it appears that they are just having a lot of fun dipping and soaring. I had no idea that they relied on a technique so precise that 100+ years of scientific study has not yet figured it out!
So, why am I talking about the albatross? Because these birds are onto something!! Do I want to be a stunt pilot or a crazy cliff jumping hang glider? Definitely, NO! But life requires a lot and I would really like to understand how to maximize my velocity while minimizing my effort.
I can see you scratching your head, wondering if I might perhaps strap wings to my back and set up large industrial fans in my home, tying down children and furniture lest they blow away. Again, NO! I am trying to understand this conceptually, from a spiritual perspective.
I think we, as human beings, often see the wind in our lives as problematic. Winds that blow over our best laid plans and wreck our perfectly styled hair (well, perhaps other people have perfectly styled hair…).; winds that bring sickness and the unexpected.; winds that stir things up in ways that we don’t always like. The apostle Peter demonstrated this so clearly when he tried to walk on the water to go to Jesus.
“Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matt 14:29,30
Peter was doing great, walking along on top of the waves, as long as he had his eyes fixed on Jesus. The instant he took his eyes off of Jesus he began to focus on the wind kicking up the waves and he was scared, and he started to sink. He cried out for help.
This example has always been poignant to me, but when I put it together with the albatross, the wind takes on a new meaning to me. The wind that causes the waves is not the enemy! As the albatross depends on the wind for flight, I too can depend on the wind for flight. If I am willing to keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on those waves and even soar in that wind. The wind can be my lift, not my downfall.
How do I walk this out? I think the first step is in recognizing the wind. When milk spills on the floor, when siblings are squabbling (again…), when a family member is facing illness, when my husband and I are in disagreement, when God’s calling upon our lives is hard: these things are the wind. Recognize them first, then fix my eyes on my Helper, not on the wind, nor on the waves created by the wind. God is my shear wind field. The shear wind field for the albatross is a layer about 10-20 meters high, just above the layer of wind that is creating friction with the water below. The wind in this field increases smoothly and quickly the higher you go in the field, and the albatross extracts energy from that field, allowing it to fly almost effortlessly in any direction, including into the wind. Wow!
So if I recognize the challenges of the wind, and look to God instead of at the waves that the wind creates, I can use the power of God as my shear wind field to allow me to soar above it all. The waves, the result of the wind, are the catalyst, the source of friction that is needed to create this shear wind layer that will whisk me up to higher heights. These are learning opportunities (oh yay! bring on the spilled milk and the squabbles…hmmm…). But really, this is where we learn isn’t it? Not when things are smooth.
Where does this power come from? Certainly not from me! It comes from hearing and walking out the Word of God. I try to read the Bible every day, and really hear what God is telling me. Then the challenge is to actually walk in that truth when things are hard. What I am learning though, is that this is possible! And, it makes no “scientific” sense (like the albatross)! It’s not human nature to let things go. We are inclined to worry and fuss and try to control things for our benefit. God says there is a better way. The way of the albatross. Soaring effortlessly. I want that!
One other thought that I am pondering in this is that the 3rd stage of the albatross’ 4-stage flight pattern is a descent, almost hitting the water (but not). An observer might think the bird will crash unceremoniously into the waves. Even the learning bird might experience fear the first few times he or she attempts this (or, more likely, this is a projection of how I would feel in face of this same exercise!). And I think it’s no different as we walk with God. It often seems like help doesn’t come until the last available moment; or perhaps we are not willing to truly trust in the wind until the last available moment. It looks like we are going to crash into the waves. But God has other plans if only we are willing to trust.
“The problem of getting great things from God is being able to hold on for the last half hour.” – Author Unknown
3 thoughts on “Maximum velocity, minimum effort”
just shared this w/ immediate family and friends going through some very heavy life seas -just the metaphor we all needed! I especially like the last line from Author Unknown (-: Great writing, as always – thanks, Pascale
Oh Meg I am so glad that it spoke to you and your family! Thanks for all your encouragement.
You think and write as well as Anne LaMott – do you know her little book ” Help, Thanks, Wow” the 3 essential prayers”? You both share the spirituality, the common sense, the wry humor and a deeper belief you do not impose on others, but make so profound in the way you walk and talk in this world.