A month after the tragic Covenant school shooting in Nashville, TN, and I still feel unmoored. What I thought was true and could be trusted in this world went up in smoke. How could I live in a world where nine-year olds go to school and never come home?
Mother Nature is always the first place I come when I feel low on hope. This past week, I found myself jogging my usual route at Radnor Lake in Nashville. I count myself an unofficial member of the Radnor Paparazzi. They are a group of local retirees who most mornings can be found, cameras in hand, searching for a natural wonder. My friends can tell you all about the all-white albino fawn on the wooded trail, the four-story blue heron condominium on the lakes edge, the bald eagle’s loft in the clouds, even the elusive otters.
As I slowly crested the hill, I saw my friend Al, in his old blue baseball cap, sitting on the levy. His ultra-fancy camera was pointed straight up to the top of a thick, old maple tree. “It’s a Pileated Woodpecker’s nest.” Just as he said it, I heard the unmistakable hammering, like the thumping of my heart. A Papa woodpecker was working on the tree nearby. You hear a Pileated woodpecker long before you spy his or her black and white striped plumage and spectacular crown of red feathers. Their expertly-designed beaks can hammer the hardest of woods. They peck and peck tirelessly digging for carpenter ants or chiseling out a nest for their families. The Pileated woodpecker is known for never giving up.
God is regularly sending us messages, often in creative and surprising ways. For weeks after the Covenant tragedy, I saw Pileated woodpeckers everywhere. One of the lady members of the Radnor Paparazzi said her grandfather, an avid birdwatcher, believed they appeared when someone was facing a tough situation. They came with a sacred message to holdfast and persevere. Native Americans believe the Pileated woodpecker is a link between the earthly and spiritual realms.
After the school shooting, I wondered if goodness, beauty, love was enough to face this horrendous evil. Or the One who created this world is truly invested in its redemption?
I prayed that day in the Radnor forest and received the woodpecker’s flare of red as a Divine nudge to remain steadfast. I believe that God is moving between the boundary of earthly humanity and spiritual infinite. At every turn during the tragedy, I have felt God’s hand guiding me and giving me what I needed in the face of the impossible. I have witnessed what could only be described as divine intervention and reinforcement. God is with us as promised.
My mission is to be like the Pileated Woodpecker with her bold red crown. I refuse to give up on God and this sacred world, no matter how hard the situation. The promise is that if I agree to keep pecking, I will come in contact with the sacred, the holy, the very real presence of God. A masterful Plan is in place, worth hammering our hearts for, that will ultimately prove redemptive and love-fulfilling.
In every season, our job is to keep pecking!