"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

11 February 2006

On Penguins and Purpose

If you have seen The March of the Penguins in the theatre, get the DVD anyway and enjoy the story of how it was made, with much more footage of the penguins and of the landscape. One of the men working on the project is especially eloquent, and his verbal descriptions are in themselves delightful; he refers to the "aerial avalanche" of the storm winds, for example.

If you haven't seen this documentary, it's well worth the time. The amazing marches of these flightless birds, up to 70 miles across the Arctic ice to mate and care for their young, inspires admiration of God's creative work. (And the baby penguins are really cute, too.)

I found the affection of the mating penguins fascinating and their clear mourning for a lost egg or chick saddened me. But the film's main focus -- the marches and the risk of starvation for the safety of the young -- cannot but move the heart.

The penguins leave the sea to walk a full week without stopping to the only safe place to raise their chicks. After mating and finally laying their eggs, they have been without food for two months. The females-- the most at risk because of the toll of motherhood on their bodies -- carefully entrust the eggs (only one per couple) to their mates in an elaborate and careful dance designed to keep the eggs from touching the ice for more than a few seconds and thus freezing. They then begin the march back to the sea for food, leaving the father penguins in charge of the incubating eggs.

In remarkable timing only explicable by a loving Creator's design, the mothers return to the hatching grounds within a day or two of the chicks' appearance. A brief reunion with their mates -- whom they recognize by voice -- and they exchange the chicks as they had earlier exchanged the eggs. The fathers, now having been three months without food, return to the sea. For the next five months, the parents alternate this journey to feed and to provide food and protection to the chicks.

Amazing perseverance and commitment despite the harshest conditions on earth. And they do this year after year. They begin returning to the hatching ground annually after four years of living in the sea, and their average life-span is twenty years. Fifteen years of arduous work for one sole purpose: to give their young the best opportunity to survive.

How often do we complain about the obstacles in our way, the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of our daily lives? Perhaps the problem is not so much an ungrateful spirit as a lack of purpose. If one's purpose were clear and non-negotiable, of a nature so overwhelmingly important that it was worth dying for -- would one be concerned with inconveniences and discomforts? Would petty aggravations be so consuming? Or would one simply do one's work without regard to the inevitable difficulties?

The Christian's purpose is to become like Christ, to serve Him. Within that overarching purpose to love God and neighbor, what is the one specific thing God has created you to do to be a part of His work in the world? As Mary Oliver asks in "The Summer Day,"

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

1 comment:

Fieldfleur said...

An amazing thing, that penguin march, that focus, purpose, gaze, commitment, accomplishment. I most like the part where they are swimming in the water, flying to a purposeful fancy as well.
Like the Oliver question a lot. Thanks for your insights!