If you visit Rome in the winter time you’ll see millions of starlings accomplishing astonishing aerial manoeuvres over the city as night begins to fall.
Five million starlings in fact – they come into the city to roost at night putting on a free air show before darkness falls. It’s worth finding a YouTube clip and watching the performance for yourself!
Now it turns out that the starlings aren’t performing to impress the local Italians so as to soften the blow of all the damage five million birds can do to a city…the aerial display is their defence against hungry peregrine falcons who are looking for their evening meal.
And the starlings’ best defence is to stick together, so that it is very difficult for the peregrine to isolate one bird for dinner.
Now if five million birds are going to stick together effectively they need a plan so that the whole thing doesn’t disintegrate into a chaotic collision of feathers and beaks … “I thought we were going this way; no, we’re going that way. Look out!”
And so each starling shadows not five million others but seven of his nearest neighbours. Each starling keeps focused on seven others close to him and sticks with them no matter what. It’s the seven companions that mean the one starling can be part of a truly remarkable aerial feat. It’s the seven companions that mean the one starling can be safe from predators.
I really like the way this pattern in nature reflects something that is true about human relationships. I see it in my own life.
It’s my closest relationships that help me to make something good of my life. Perhaps even something spectacular like a 5 million strong aerial display!
And It’s my closest relationships that help to keep me safe (not in a boring way) – formation flying with even just seven others is pretty exhilarating - but in a way that gives me the security from which to live well.
For me the closest of all those close friendships is my relationship with Jesus. Jesus showed the greatest love a friend can show in laying down his life for us. And Jesus calls us “friend” (John 15:13-15)
This week take note of who you are flying most closely with?
Do your closest relationships give you the security which frees you to live well?