Every time something new, or life-changing or "big" happens in my life, it has been accompanied by an unusual and unique bird-sighting. For example, there was the time in Galilee, when, on the deck of a hotel that Star and I were staying in, we saw a dove sitting all by herself on the porch. This was not terribly unusual, until the next morning when this dove produced an egg on that very same porch. That very morning, we found out about how Haley Islay, our three year old daughter, would come into our life. Early on in my ministry in Paso Robles, I was writing a sermon in my home office, struggling through the syntax of a particular sentence, when I saw a three foot bald eagle majestically casting a knowing eye on me, while standing in my front yard. I cannot remember how my sermon went that particular weekend, but the vision of the eagle I will not soon forget. There was the white horned owl that I encountered on a walk at night that accompanied the announcement that my surrogate grandmother had passed away. Birds bring big news in my life!
So, it did not escape my notice this past Friday, when I witnessed one of the strangest and most interesting bird sightings in my life. As I was pruning a Spruce tree in my front yard, I observed not one but two hawks hovering overhead. These hawks were cawing (do hawks caw?) very loudly and circling ominously. Then, one hawk landed high up on a branch next to me, and then then the other landed. The next thing is hard for me to describe descriptively enough in the context of a blog post but the two hawks then proceeded to...I think the word is...mate. I will spare you the details of the mating of the hawks, since I am sure it was a private moment for them anyway. But I have been asking myself big questions ever since. "What is this strange thing?" "What is it that God is trying to say to me?" "What new in-breaking is about to happen?" Or was it simply as Freud might have described it, that - "sometimes a hawk mating is just a hawk mating."
I do not know the immediate answers to these questions, but I would like to venture very gingerly into the realm of natural theology (seeing God in the midst of nature - note: Jonathan Edwards), for just a moment, and ask the question, what connection is there between birds and God?
Birds come up a lot in the bible. The most obvious example is the dove. The primary metaphor we associate with the Holy Spirit's presence in the New Testament is that of a dove; "And the Holy Spirit descended on Him in bodily form like a dove" (Luke 3:22). Of course there were no birds actually present at Jesus' baptism, but the metaphor of a dove as the Holy Spirit has stuck for these many years. It was also a dove that was sent out by Noah, after forty days and nights on the waters, that would bring back an olive branch, a sign that God had ended the destruction of the earth; "When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in it's beak was a fleshly plucked olive leaf" (Gen. 8:11). And there are hundreds of other examples of birds in the Bible, birds seemingly displaying God's power and God's grace in the Bible: "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles,"For they will rise up on wings..like eagles," (Is. 40:31); "Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow or reap, or stow away in barns, and yet the heavenly Father feeds them," (Matt 6:26).
These examples of avian specimen in the Bible are equally concrete and as elusive - as concrete and elusive as a bird itself. Some larger theological themes, however, can be drawn from them. Whenever we encounter a bird in nature, there is the sense that something fragile and beautiful has fleetingly flitted into our lives. There is a literal sense of transcendence and levity, of something that floats higher than we do, entering our world. There is often a sense that birds have a higher view of life than we do - a "birds-eye" view, if you will. A bird is an apt metaphor for how we often view God. At least for Christians, we know that God does observe life in a higher, more elevated way than we do. We know that Jesus really was like a "moor-hen" as the book of Psalms suggests - that Jesus was both all powerful and all human, tough and fragile at the same time. We know that the actual Spirit of God also, "blows, (and flutters) where it will."
So, birds for me, are a reminder of God. But what is God doing? What is God trying to say? What messages are currently being sent? The answers to these questions are as ineffable and unforgettable as two hawks mating on branches high above my yard. But I will continue to look to the heavens for the answers, higher even than the birds themselves...
All For Now,