January 14

The Flight of the Stork

January 14, 2009

Personal Growth

Every year the European white stork flies 3100 miles and more from Europe to winter in central and even southern Africa. For those who don't carry atlases in their heads, between Europe and Africa lies the Mediterranean Sea, which is rather long from east to west (about 2500 miles) but relatively narrow from north to south (averaging about 500 miles). The storks could shorten their migration considerably if only they would fly over the sea to Africa, but they don't. They fly all the way around the Mediterranean, taking a route east through Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel, or west through Spain and over the Strait of Gibraltar, which is only eight miles of water between Europe and Africa.

This raises a question about the storks. Are they afraid of water? Are they lousy navigators, who would get lost if they flew out of sight of land? Not at all. They're simply taking advantage of the tools Nature gave them. These birds have wings that are both wide and long—with a span of about six feet—which makes them well suited for gliding but not flapping. In order to fly for long distances, storks require currents of upward moving air—called thermals—which are generated when the sun heats the surface of the earth. If a stork finds the right currents, it can travel for hours without a single flap of its wings.

Thermals are not generated over the surface of the ocean, so far out to sea—over the Mediterranean, for example—the storks would be forced to flap their huge wings to create their forward progress, and they would soon fall to the water. As the storks migrate over Spain, Asia Minor, the Middle East, and Africa, they easily find warm currents of air that have been heated over the deserts of those regions, so even though their journey by these routes is far longer than flying directly over the Mediterranean, it's actually easier because of the assistance of abundant thermals. Even with the assistance of air currents, however, the migration is a long and difficult affair, and some birds die in the process, as a result of storms, predators, hunters, disease, and exhaustion.

Similarly, we human beings travel through our lives on long and perilous journeys, and many of us sicken and weaken in the process. If we flap our wings hard enough, emotionally speaking, we can actually lift off the ground and take flight, but the effort is exhausting. Some of us, however, have discovered that if we simply stretch our wings wide, we can experience the power of being lifted from the ground by emotional and spiritual thermals—almost without effort—high into the sky, for long distances.

It is Real Love that powers these thermals that carry us high and far—personally and in our relationships. With them we experience a richness and fullness of life. Sometimes we may be tempted to take shortcuts—across the Mediterranean, as it were—where we travel without the benefits of Real Love, but in the absence of these lifting currents we are left to struggle on our own. Eventually, the effort becomes unbearable, and we fall to the earth, exhausted and alone.

We already have our wings. All of us are worthy of being loved as we are. All we have to do is unfold those wings and take advantage of the great power that is available all around us. We only need to learn how to be more open and honest and faithful, and allow the love of other people—and God—to lift us from the bonds of this earth to the celestial heights above and to limitless horizons beyond.

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