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
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!
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.