The other day my spouse and I took the dogs to Diamond Lake County Park to do a little hiking. When we finished our hike, we decided to drive around the lake to take in the entirety of the park and its sights. As we neared the boat ramp and kayak launch area, we saw a beautiful Great Blue Heron near the shoreline, and slowed down to take a few pictures.
As we pulled away, my spouse and I began to exchange past kayaking stories of times when Blue Herons had seemed to guide us down the river. The herons would go before us, wait for us to catch up, then fly to a new spot downstream only to repeat this process all over again. I commented to my spouse that because of this guidance, I have always viewed blue herons as a sign that things were going to be alright, and seeing them has always brought me a great deal of comfort.
Signs are a part of our Christian tradition, and we needn’t look any further than the gospel of John to see evidence of this. In John’s gospel, there are a number of signs. Those signs are miraculous, (water turned to wine; a man born blind made to see; a man dead for four days raised, to name a few), but they aren’t there to knock our socks off with awe and wonder. Signs aren’t about the event or the thing or the person involved. Signs are meant to point us toward something else–beyond whatever it is we might see in front of us toward a meaning that cannot always so easily be brought into words.
Whenever I see a Great Blue Heron, it points me beyond the uncertainty of the present moment toward a deep assurance that, in the words of Mystic Julian of Norwich, “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” It points me beyond the despair of the present moment toward the hope of the next. This sign points me beyond what seems impossible in the here and now toward the possibilities of tomorrow. For me, the Great Blue Heron is a sign that leads me forward even when I cannot imagine that anything lies beyond the river bend.
Take a look around. What signs are present in your midst? What is something that you can see or touch that is pointing you beyond yourself and toward something not so easily named? Maybe it’s a song that comes on the radio, leading you to remember the love you share with your partner. Maybe it’s the rainfall that is pointing you toward refreshment and renewal in another part of your life. Maybe it’s a phone call from a friend, pointing you beyond your isolation or your grief toward the community and the love available to you. I’m not sure what it is for you, but I believe that God is in it–always pointing us beyond wherever we may find ourselves toward healing, wholeness, and life.
So watch for those signs this week, Beloved. They’re here–all around us–just waiting for us to notice and to hear that deep truth for ourselves: That “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
Watching for signs with you,
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen
Rev. Melissa Sternhagen was called as the pastor of St. Paul Congregational UCC in June of 2020. Prior to her call to St. Paul, Pr. Melissa worked as a hospice chaplain in the Ames, IA area, following pastorates at rural churches in Central Iowa and Southern Illinois. Pr. Melissa is a second-career pastor with a background in agribusiness and production & supply operations. She received her M.Div. from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO, and holds a MA Ed. in Adult Education and Training, and a BA in Organizational Communications.