Every time I go to the beach, it’s like a spiritual experience: Observing the waves crashing on the shore. Enjoying a beautiful sunrise or sunset. Seeing footprints someone has left in the sand. Watching a sailboat harness the breeze to skim across the water. These all are wondrous sights, giving me a renewed appreciation for the wonders and variety of God’s creation.
Probably my favorite is the sight of pelicans soaring in the wind, diving to catch a fish, or bobbing peacefully in the ebbs and flows of the ocean. Pelicans are a paradox of sorts, rather ugly birds up close, with long, slender beaks, beady eyes, and mouths that sag under the weight of a just inhaled meal. Not nearly as majestic as a bald eagle or captivating as a cardinal. And yet, when flying together, riding the air currents in perfect unison, they transform into visions of unquestionable grandeur.
I'd imagine these winged creatures experience a sense of joy and fulfillment as they soar in tandem, doing what they were uniquely designed to do. I’d never expect anyone to adopt the slogan, “pretty as a pelican.” But seeing these seabirds frolicking so effortlessly through the air, especially with a blazing sky at sunset as a backdrop, is exhilarating.
This is kind of a metaphor for the Church. Not all of us are beautiful blue jays, proud peacocks or songbirds festooned in feathery splendor. Some of us are more like the peculiar pelican or comical penguins; a few among us bear a suspicious resemblance to vultures. But when we come together in unity and harmony, blending our distinctive talents, skills and gifts, we can become a wondrous spiritual body that powerfully reflects the divine traits of our Creator.
The psalmist writes, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). While we typically ascribe this to humanity, I don’t see any reason for not applying this description to all of His works. Because in Romans 1:20 we’re told, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
But getting back to the Church – the body of Christ – and the crazy, quirky folks that comprise it, even though individually many of us aren’t all that much to look at, when we merge to perform a spiritual symphony for the Lord, the melody that results is unforgettable.
We find the apostle Paul describing this, but using another metaphor – the human body: “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts, and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ…. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ and the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor…. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
When the odd-looking pelicans align in formation as they catch the wind, they are doing so in silent praise to God. Working together in symmetry to fulfill His purpose and design for them. We can do the same when we too come together to convey – verbally and non-verbally – Jesus’ eternal, life-changing message of forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. Psalm 133:1 declares, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!”
Unity seems to be a much-neglected quality in our society these days, and the spirit of disunity has trickled down into the Church. If only we could become more like pelicans, casting aside our differences and idiosyncrasies to form a vision of oneness for all the world to see.
As Paul wrote, “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).