Like kids the world over, my sisters and I were not so good at waiting. Waiting in line, waiting outside a building for someone, waiting while one of our parents talked with a friend until Jesus returned. However, we were masters at picking on each other. Poking. Shoving. Being overall annoying while waiting? Gold medalists.
So our brilliant mother trained us “do the flamingo.” She’d say “flamingo” and on command we would each bow our head, place an arm (um, wing) over our head, raise one leg in a bent position, and stand quietly as a sleeping flamingo, seeing who could hold the position the longest.
To this day, I think if someone called out “do the flamingo” in the general direction of one of the three of us, we’d drop our heads, cover them with a wing, and raise a leg before we realized that most people have no idea what we are doing.
Several years ago, we were together as a family and went to the zoo to view Christmas lights, They even had a flamingo display! Of course, we had to start training (most of) the next generation:
As I read today’s chapter in Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible by
Based on the stereotypes of vultures, I bet she thought we were doing the vulture with all of our picking at each other. Unfortunately our picking didn’t lead to purifying that Debbie Blue noted in vulture’s behavior.
This week’s theme—recovery—is an apt pairing with the vulture and the discussion on ugliness and beauty. As Blue wrote, “The line between what is ugly and what is beautiful moves around a lot over time.”
What struck me most profoundly was the idea that in several instances either the word “eagle” or “vulture” could have been a reasonable translation. I would imagine that I am not the only one who holds a special place for Isaiah 40:31 in my heart.
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like [vultures], they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
I first became aware of this verse in junior high when my dad was hospitalized. He had aplastic anemia, a rare and serious blood disease that kills all of a person’s bone marrow. It is like HIV in that a person doesn’t die of aplastic anemia, they die because their immune system is so weakened they are susceptible to virtually everything.
My dad was hospitalized so much, I can’t remember what he was in for when I was looking for a verse to encourage him. What had lead him to go to the doctor in the first place was being so winded just walking up the stairs of our house he had to sit on the bed to catch his breath. So, the idea that he would “run and not be weary, walk and not faint” was the part I was drawn to.
I can see now how my notion of a soaring, majestic eagle, the bird typically used in this translation, inspired my young heart. I remember writing this verse on a piece of paper and having my mom deliver it to my dad. Later, when he was discharged, he thanked me and said it had encouraged him. At that time there were three very ill people in our church, the other two people died. Why my dad was spared and they died is part of the mysterious ways of God.
While my family was grateful, extremely grateful, it was a humble gratitude. We knew it could easily have been any other family who experienced the miracle of healing here on earth. I resonated with Debbie when she shared about an essay written years before on Isaiah 40:31.
“I mentioned that I had been waiting for the Lord quite a long time but had not really felt much like I have been mounting up with wings like an eagle. I had been noticing the turkey vultures all around Jim’s grandma’s farm—how wobbly they were. This seemed more like my experience, waiting for the Lord—not mounting up but circling and tottering. Faith for me is not like the strong, smooth, sure-of-itself eagle soaring; but rather the waiting, wobbling, awkward circling of those-blown-by-the-merest-whiffs-of-wing turkey vultures. I mentioned that my faith journey didn’t seem to involve some linear sort of advancing, but might better be described as swaying, rolling, and being blown.”
While faith hasn’t been something I wrestle with (I say this as a point of fact, not a point of pride), something in me recoils when people make faith too tidy. Too all soaring and no wobbling. So clean and simple and shiny. Too lacking in struggle or wandering or wondering. No waiting. No longing. All blessing. All gliding.
Anyone else surprised to learn that vultures can fly so high and are one of the most efficient flyers? When Isaiah said that those who wait on the Lord might mount up with wings like vultures, perhaps he was pointing to hope we have in not having to work super hard. Maybe he was reminding us it is not about our effort, but that we were made to, at times, glide.
Let’s talk in the comments about the purifying role of the vulture. The Bible study this week also asked what you are waiting for and how reading Isaiah 40:31 in light of the vulture informs and forms how you are waiting. We’d love to hear.
With blessing, from one who knows both how to “do the flamingo and the vulture,”
P.S. Next bird? How appropriate, the eagle.
P.P.S. Just for fun, let’s upload pictures of our selves, families, or teams “doing the flamingo” — helping to solidify these lessons a little deeper into our souls. 🙂