Have you ever seen a murmuration? Beautiful… surprising… mesmerising.
Just before dusk, in places where starlings roost, they take to the sky together, flying in unison to create extraordinary, dynamic, swirling patterns in the sky. Sometimes thousands of birds all fly together in close formation and the resulting dance is breathtaking.
It’s frankly amazing that these birds don’t just fly into each other. Their synchronisation is astounding. And the patterns are always different, so it’s not rehearsed. It must simply be that as well as lightning fast reactions, starlings are incredibly good at responding to each others movement and direction.
In fact the science suggests that each bird is acutely aware of and responds almost instantly to the seven birds closest to it in the flock and through them is connected to the entire community, so that the whole flock is able to respond to any perceived danger as one.
The western world is pretty individualistic. There is definitely more kudos attached to going it alone and ploughing your own furrow than there is to walking in step with others. So this part of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi is, for us, somewhat counter-cultural –
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
I wonder if we have anything to learn from the starlings. It’s supposedly impossible to have strong friendship with more than 150 people, and we really need to have an even smaller group of people that we relate to closely, but perhaps, like the starlings we can gain unity through connecting together in different combinations, and by choosing to make and maintain friendship across generational, church and other ‘boundaries’
But for the murmuration to work each starling has to not just be aware of, but also willing to respond to those around it.
Today there’s been a little flurry of “Love is…” cartoons on my social media- You know, those one-liner comic strips that were so popular through the seventies and eighties. Well, while I was giggling at those, I thought of the line that Paul put in the centre (and perhaps the pinnacle) of his great treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is… not self-seeking.
This is the key to making community of all kinds, but perhaps especially in church life? Love chooses to lay aside conceit, ambition and my own rights and looks to the needs of others, not because we’re weak, but because togetherness makes us strong.
So, Happy Valentine’s day – May you be able to love and serve those the Lord has put you near to with the love he has abundantly poured out over you. And together may we be a captivating witness to the world.