I’m not sure why, but I think a killdeer is by nature given to excessive worrying. Ever hear ’em? But then, I suppose they have cause. After all, they build their nests out in the open, on the ground, on gravel of all places, where just about anyone could have at the eggs–if you could find them, that is.
In addition to their snappy attire–they seem always dressed for a wedding–and the frantic pitch of their song, they’re notable because their mothers are such drama queens. Approach a nest and Mother Killdeer will fake a broken wing so convincingly you’ll be on the phone to the SPCA, stunning performances staged to draw attention away from the eggs. Not the kids. Killdeer young spring from their eggs as if half-grown. Mom tosses the kids out almost as if she doesn’t love them.
I found this single killdeer feather on the driveway yesterday in one of our few windless mornings. It’s a work of art, I think. It belonged, I’m sure, to some local killdeer. It’s just exceedingly fine, don’t you think?
There are moments when I wished it weren’t so, but I’m so hopelessly Calvinist that if I find a killdeer feather on our driveway my mind leaps to God’s providence–hairs on heads, birds of the field–you know.
I’ve been reading the century-old sermons of a preacher named Rev. D. R. Drukker, no relation other than that we were reared the same tiny Dutch denomination, albeit most of one hundred years apart. The third sermon in The Beauty of God is titled, simply, “God Our Guide.” It’s all about providence but doesn’t use that other greatly despised Calvinist p-word.
I’ve been asking myself why, back then, this Dominie Drukker was considered the denomination’s finest. The book’s intro says he was, an intro penned by a man I had thought might well have been considered such himself, Dr. Henry Beets.
I can only speculate why he was so beloved, but I was startled by the way this Rev. Drukker uses William Cullen Bryant in the third sermon of the volume, an American poet known primarily for “Thanatopsis,” a poem about death that was once required reading for just about every American high-schooler–“Thanatopsis” and “To a Waterfowl,” the poem Drukker quotes (without attribution, I should add) in his sermon.
Makes good sense that he uses that poem, but I’m still somewhat surprised to find it here. After all, William Cullen Bryant was probably not required reading for late-19th century Dutch Calvinists. Drukker had to be reading on his own to find that poem. He must have been dipping his imagination into literature that wasn’t necessarily approved by Calvinist powers-that-be.
But then what little he uses of that poem, anonymously, sounds pretty much like catechism:
There is a power whose care
Teaches thy way along that pathless coast
The desert and illimitable air–
Lone wandering, but not lost.
He who, from zone to zone,
Guides thro’ the boundless sky thy certain flight,
In the long way that I must tread alone,
Will lead my steps aright.
Neither p-word is there either, but if “predestination” isn’t in the poem, that certainly doesn’t mean the doctrine isn’t in the mix. I spent my lifetime teaching literature, so I hope you’ll excuse my wanting to believe that one possible attribute that made Drukker a memorable preacher was wide reading habits. I’d really like to believe that.
And then there’s this. Rev. Drukker wouldn’t think of a sermon without three points, and the third sermon, “God Our Guide,” isn’t short. His third point goes like this: “In Following the Guidance of God We Must Not Try the Short-cuts.” Let me quote: “The child of God may in all confidence rely upon God,” Rev. Drukker says. “At times the way may appear to be dark and dreary. Help may seem to be far away from him.. . .”
But there’s assurance, to be sure. “God will guide us to the end of the journey. No matter how dark the night, how rough the way, how deep the valley, how steep the mountain, how long the wait, how burdensome the load, how heavy the heart, remember–and then he quotes from the Psalter before him:
Thy protector is the Lord,
Shade for thee He will afford;
Neither sun nor moon shall smite,
God shall guard by day and night.
He will ever keep thy soul,
What would harm He will control;
In the home and by the way
He will keep thee day by day.
No attribution there either, but I’m betting the congregation could not have missed Psalm 121.
I picked up this killdeer feather just yesterday, a little, magnificently fine work of art, don’t you think? And that little feather put me in mind of blessed assurance, a place I need to be because this morning we’ll return to the hospital where, last night for a time, Dad, who’s 98 years old, had kind of lost his mind. He’s dying.
In “God Our Guide,” the good Reverend Drukker is spot on, as was Lowell, as is Psalm 121. And pardon me if I just have to chuckle because, trust me, a killdeer feather, William Cullen Bryant, and a dusty old sermon from a century ago is, day by day, just what I need to get by.