The Endless Overflowing of the Bible {Book Club}

Every summer as the first day of school nears, my nieces grow in their anticipation of the school year. Who will be their teachers? Will they have classes and lunches with friends? What will they wear on the first day? This is how I feel as we approach Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible by Debbie Blue. 

In December of 2013 Kimberly Todd shared Consider the Birds on Facebook as her best read of the year. Unlike me, Kimberly is not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole, so I knew her recommendation carried weight. I got the book in January (according to my “receipt bookmark” 1/21/2014) and took the book with me to visit a friend. The number of dots in the margin indicates that I agreed with Kimberly’s assessment. I also remember moving very slowly through it as I stalked my friend, following her around her house with bird insights.

Maybe a little too much like a feral pigeon?

When I landed back home, it turned out my dad was more ill than we had realized, and all of life got put on a back burner as we moved into hospital, hospice, death, memorial service mode. It was months later I picked up this book to finish it, thinking to myself, “What a different vista you’ll finish this from where you started.”

So often, we associate memories with a book, don’t we? Now I have new memories as this summer Caitlin, Emily, and I divided it up and wrote bird bible studies to go with each chapter. You can get the bible study here.

I loved the foreword by Lauren Winner because she expressed what probably many of us thought, “I’m not all that into birds, but I am into the bible.” And the ways we can be familiar with a passage, have studied it, and yet still find something new. “This amazes me, this endless overflowing of the Bible.” Me too.

In the introduction, Debbie Blue summarized why focusing on one area (such as birds) helps with other areas in our lives: “I believe it is the same way with the grace of God—when you start paying attention, you’ll discover it in places you hadn’t noticed it before.” By noticing birds this fall, I’m hoping our noticing is a doorway into a deeper understanding of God.

Before we dive into chapter one, let’s talk about birds where you live. I remember when I first moved to China I went months without hearing a bird. There were no birds. How could this be? Well, a little study of history helped with that one (and now birds have returned almost everywhere!). Here I will out myself with my lack of knowledge. I’m trying to think what birds I’ve seen in China and am coming up with very descriptive words like “small ones.”

Oh my word. Amy, come on!

Help! There have to be people reading this who know more about birds than I do (um, wouldn’t take much). What birds live near you? Any pictures you can add to a comment below? While I might not know specific birds, I would like to learn.

As I read chapter one, I realized I have a similar attitude towards doves as Debbie Blue. “The dove has come to seem banal and bland and cutesy as far as Christian symbols go. It has come to represent something polite and petite and pure. Maybe this has worked to deprive us of a more robust view of the Holy Spirit.”

Later in the chapter, with further understanding of the nature of pigeons and doves, she asks, “What if the spirit of God descends like a pigeon, somehow—always underfoot, routinely ignored, often despised?” Oh man, that is a far deeper and wider image and understanding than the Sunday School version I haven’t updated in my consciousness since about 6th grade.

I hadn’t known that 40% of the birds in North America are in the pigeon/dove family. This adds beauty and depth to the metaphor of the dove at Jesus’ baptism.

From the bible study—which you do not need to be doing AND this is another mildly awkward moment because I wrote this study—two thoughts stood out:

1. All those verbs associated with doves and pigeons! If that is a picture of the spirit, all of his sighing ministers to me!

2. I reflected on the passage from John and how familiar people would have been with the scriptures and all of the references to doves. In an unexpected sense I was with those around John when he said, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove . . .” and I gasped a bit. Slowing down to learn about doves and look at them in scripture, I heard this as if I was only now really hearing it. What a sweeping historical reference and pointing to the sacrifice that Jesus came to be.

What stood out to you from the chapter or the bible study? Do pigeons live near you?

See you in the comments!

Amy

P.S. Next week we read about pelicans. For fun: any of you who grew up with Sesame Street, remember Bert Doin’ the Pigeon? I hadn’t watched it in years and his commentary on watching pigeons walking around is worth the first minute or so! Connection Group registration will open tomorrow (Tuesday) at 6 p.m. EST. You can see the Connection Groups available this year here.

 

20 Comments

  1. Emily Smith September 19, 2016

    I have been waiting months for this book club to start. I read the book back in April when we first threw around the idea of the Bible Study. Since then I’ve been seeing birds EVERYWHERE. Though not relating only to this chapter, it has been such a fun reminder. A visual that flaps and squawks across my path and reminds me of a truth of God. I’m so excited to get to go through this as a community.
    My favorite quote from this chapter…”They are where we are — in some of the worst places we have made (our neglected projects and abandoned buildings) and some of the best (art museums, parks, Rome’s piazzas). They won’t leave us alone.” They won’t leave us alone…that is a picture of the Spirit that I want to keep. A Spirit that won’t leave us alone…regardless of our level of appreciation.

    I also included my pigeon picture from a few weeks ago when I was in Antigua, Guatemala. Only one of the many countries where I’ve taken pictures with pigeons. Mostly because they are everywhere and under foot. (And because they make their homes in the old buildings I am trying to photograph)

    1. Emily Smith September 19, 2016

      Ha! and the picture decided to go sideways. Now everyone gets to tilt their head to look at the picture. Oops!

    2. Amy Young September 20, 2016

      Me too! On waiting months :). And that quote stood out to me too. What a beautiful picture of God, eh? Was it in “Mary Poppins” that she has the “feed the birds” song? And all those pigeons! I love your picture :).

  2. Jenilee September 20, 2016

    Amy, I loved this post! I can’t wait to dig into this book. I love when scripture comes alive in new ways!

    1. Amy Young September 20, 2016

      Me too! So glad to hear your thoughts as you dig in 🙂

  3. Tanya marlow September 20, 2016

    I loved this post! Makes me wanna read the book, too.

    1. Amy Young September 20, 2016

      Yay!!!! 🙂 . . . even if you don’t, it makes me happy you WANT to 🙂

  4. Phyllis September 20, 2016

    I don’t think I’ll be reading this book with you all. I have too many others going right now. But I love birds! When we first moved to Ukraine from Russia eight years ago, I asked a few people what kinds of birds are here. The answers were along the lines of “Oh, pigeons and sparrows.” One person actually said “nothing special.” (I tried not to be personally offended for the Creator of all the beauty here! Even pigeons and sparrows are special to Him anyway.) Since then, I’ve come up with a few favourites that we see here:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_kingfisher
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/European_bee-eater
    http://www.arkive.org/european-roller/coracias-garrulus/

    The first one I linked to there is extra special to me. I used to take our kids swimming several times a week during the summers. We’d be down on the beach, with lots of people around, and I would be the only one to notice the incredible flashes of sparkly BLUE and orange. You wouldn’t believe how beautiful they really are, if you haven’t seen them in real life. Every time one would fly by–they have a very distinctive, fast, low flight pattern over the water–it would be a personal moment with God for me. To this day, our children call kingfishers “Mama’s birds.”

    About the second one I linked to: we recently watched the new Jungle Book movie. We laughed at how they showed “our” Bee-eaters cleaning a crocodile’s teeth and sitting in nests. Hah! They don’t do either in real life.

    I could write an anecdote about the third bird I linked to above, but my children are going insane…. 🙂

    1. Amy Young September 20, 2016

      Phyllis, I loved looking at the pictures of the birds!! Thank you. AND the “mama’s bird” just delights me no end (that would be “the pig” in our family — my mom’s animal!). Also funny to know more information about the Bee-eater and how it was inaccurately portrayed in The Jungle Book Movie. Even if you aren’t able to read along, please pop in when you can with comments or bird pictures or bird facts 🙂

  5. Spring September 21, 2016

    I don’t have a picture but there was a lovely golden bird which was named for the noise he made. So pretty to look at him out of our window.

    Pigeons? many I didn’t like them. In Belize they were everywhere. They invaded the church we had. If you were quiet enough coming up to the church, you could hear a chorus of cooing. I imagine there were 30 or so at least. The thought of comparing a pigeon to the Holy Spirit astounded me. Invasive, if you are quiet you can hear him; yet it is so hard to get the traditional picture of a dove out of my head.

  6. Kiera September 22, 2016

    The whole dove is a pigeon thing blew my mind. We don’t have tons of birds in the city in China, but we do have pigeons. Now, every time I see one, I think of the Spirit of God. Almost as if God has somehow become tangible. A reminder that he really does live in my neighbourhood. Can’t wait for more from this book.

  7. Elizabeth September 22, 2016

    A couple things from the book stood out for me —

    The part about doves being everywhere, in both the sacred places and the profane, as well as the mundane. The Spirit is everywhere, even when we think we’re alone. Others have mentioned that, but I still love it, and it’s probably the biggest take-away for me from this chapter.

    Also the part where pigeons have strong desires, and that guides them back to where they began. I think God desires us that way. That’s why He keeps coming back to us, even when we run away.

    We do have pigeons here — hundreds — on the riverside. Tourists like to buy corn and feed them. My children also love feeding the birds and regularly ask when we can go back (it’s not often, as it’s far from our house).

    1. Elizabeth September 22, 2016

      A pic of last time we fed the birds

  8. Jessica Atwell September 24, 2016

    Thank you for putting together the Bible studies to go along with this book. I did the one on doves and really enjoyed it. God really spoke to my heart when connecting verbs applied to the dove and the Spirit. I kept thinking of the dove sent out by Noah. It was searching. It brought back a sign of peace. A message of hope. Noah’s family got into the Ark willingly but I’m sure were itching to get out. They were encouraged them to stay put, even though they didn’t understand what was going on outside, the dove gave them a simple sign that God was working. I’ve been struggling to want to be in the field and was gently reminded that I got into this situation willingly (the Ark), there’s truly no going back (the old world was destroyed) because my life wouldn’t be the same after serving abroad, but the Holy Spirit is searching my heart and trying to bring me hope, encouragement, and a peaceful assurance that God has not left me in this new situation. He is at work even though I don’t always see and understand it all. … I’m excited for this book! I’ve only ever read the free books but I am talking my husband into reading this together as devotional. Hopefully we can spend the money. 🙂

  9. Malia September 24, 2016

    So there’s a picture of a pigeon near my home, at a kids’ playground we’ve frequented for years. I’ve always known there were annoying pigeons there–that peck at my kids for handouts and sometimes hobble around crippled, scaring children and adults alike. Not until I read this chapter did I realize that some of the pigeons were white instead of gray. If I’d looked closer, I might have said, “Hey, that’s a dove.” But no way! Doves aren’t annoying, and they don’t beg or bother or become one-legged. I think I had a cartoon image of a dove in my head…so much so that I would never recognize a dove in the “real” world.

    This perspective has challenged me in my thinking of the Holy Spirit. Do I have a cartoon image of Him too? Do I expect Him only in the “spiritual world” so much that I never see Him in my everyday? What if He has been as present as these rascal pigeons–but I brushed Him aside as a nuisance? Oh…if this has been so, I pray I’ll have my eyes opened now to see Him around me–even as He manifests Himself in ways I don’t expect.

  10. kellyvia September 27, 2016

    So far I’m intrigued by this book. I’m enjoying the references, even ever so subtle, to birds throughout the Bible, as our author is pointing out. Ex: “The Spirit hovered over the deep (like a bird)…and made it pregnant so that the deep birthed creation; now it hovers over Mary (like a bird) and makes her pregnant…” Then at the baptism of Jesus the spirit is there like a Dove.
    These types of connections made by Blue, as a bird lover, are connections that another Bible reader, such as myself, may not see.
    I enjoy reading perspectives of others, especially when they seem to come from a different angle than mine, but may line up with mine and even allow me to walk away with some awesome insight and help me to encounter Christ in a new & creative way. Looking forward to what the next chapters bring.

  11. Jimmy Bedding April 11, 2020

    Hi there from London

    I don’t know where you are based – what group your represent and how to get hold of the bird book but I’d like to know all that . I wrote a book on the anointing of the Holy Spirit and on the front page it has a dove on it – yesterday a pigeon came into my kitchen – I wonder the significance of that ?

    Bless you all
    Jimmy London

    1. Jimmy April 11, 2020

      Also a few months ago I had a vision of golden leaves swirling around my living room – it was an open vision – I believe it constitutes healing to the nations – and will happen after this virus passes

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