Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Birds

Yesterday, I quoted a verse from Jeremiah that says, Even storks know when it's time to return. Mourning doves, swallows, and cranes know when it's time to migrate. But my people don't know.... (8:7) As I typed out those words, something struck me about the story within the story, the meaning within these words that would be all too easy to miss.

It's the kind of thing the Bible does all the time.

In the context of this verse, we're talking about seasons. We're talking about all the subtle little shifts in the wind that tell us when it's time to move. Even the birds, the Bible says, know this; but men, not so much. And it's dangerous to get into the idea of believing that seasons means "big transitional moments" because then we live our lives as one big moment after another and lose sight of the story that's being told.

But look again at the four birds Jeremiah mentions here. 

He mentions the stork, which is often thought of as a messenger of birth. Where do babies come from? Well, the stork delivers them, of course! And every time we think of a stork, we think of a bird with a bundle hanging from his beak. That's just where our minds go. Birth is certainly a big moment; it's certainly the arrival of a new season. Isn't it? It's a season of life, of hope, of anticipation, of promise, of all these incredible things that we just can't ever accurately put into words. 

He mentions the mourning dove, and mourning is the opposite of all the things the stork brings. Mourning is a time of grief, of loss, of emptiness. It's a time of hardship and trial. It's a time of trying to figure things out, trying to piece together how everything is going to work again when one of the pieces is all of a sudden taken away. It's a season of death, of heartache, of agony, of all the heartbreaking things that we just can't ever accurately put into words.

He mentions the swallow, and what is it to swallow? It is to take something in, to embrace it, to pull it into the core of your being. It's that time when something just gets deep down inside of you and maybe for a bit just sort of sits there. It's a season of uncertainty, of steel will (think: swallow hard), of facing whatever's coming at you without either the time or the energy to blink. It's a conscious decision to stand your ground, to look life in the eye, and to take it for what it's worth.

He mentions the crane, and what is the crane? When we talk about the crane, we talk about tall things. We talk about things with long necks, a creature (or an action) that strains to see something beyond what might be in its natural line of sight, or its comfortable line of sight. It's the act of looking forward, of deliberately trying to see beyond the horizon. It's a season of promise, of expectation, of imagination.

And so the Bible, in that quiet little way in which it often does this sort of thing, has once again given us a story within a story or a season within a season. It's not enough to talk about how the birds just know when it's time to move, how they understand the winds and the migration patterns. It's not just about the birds; it's about the seasons themselves. It's about life and death, about determination and hope.

It's no accident that Jeremiah writes about the stork and the mourning dove, the swallow and the crane. He chooses these four birds, these four migratory birds who move with the shifting of the winds, because these birds are our stories. Life and hope. Death and grief. Uncertainty and steel will. Imagination and promise. These are our lives. These are our moments. These are our seasons.

Do you know when to move?

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