By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS — January 7, 2018) — January 5th was National Bird Day . Originally established by Charles Babcok in 1894 and celebrated in May, it was the first American holiday to recognize our flying friends . On this day bird lovers celebrate the occasion with bird watching events and participate in other bird-related activities. As a bird lover, I honored the day by riding my bike to the Open Space Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico and watched the Sandhill cranes. It caused me to remember my first interest in birds.
As I child I was convinced I could talk with birds. Once on a trip near the Presbyterian retreat center Ghost Ranch (the former summer home of artist, Georgia O’Keeffe), we stopped by a small zoo they had on the property. There I would walk through the aviary section whispering to the birds. As a boy of nine, I was sure a particular red-tail hawk understood what I said; we communed in a language all our own. Since then, birds have become one of my favorite animals.
More recently, my Navajo friends gave me my Navajo name. After watching me run about on the Reservation, Grandma Marlene chose dahiiti’hii, — the hummingbird — as my designation. She said she gave me the name because “I can’t sit still, and like to lead with my nose.”
In between the two incidents birds have been an enjoyable part of my life, encompassing bird watching trips, pets, and a bird sanctuary in our backyard. To say the least, I’ve had a fascination with the beautiful creatures most my life.
Jesus, too, admired birds. In several parables and teachings He referenced birds. “Consider the birds,” He reminded the disciples, as He discussed how God cares for them. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny,” He asks His followers, stating, “not one will be forgotten before God,” inferring the Lord will not forget His children. Jesus also compared birds to the kingdom of God: “The birds come and make nests.” And Jesus references birds when discussing the fact that He has no home: “The birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay His head.” And the Holy Spirit — in the form of a dove — descended upon Jesus at His baptism. In short, Jesus was well aware of His creation and feathery friends of flight.
By some accounts, there are roughly 300 passages found in the Bible that reference birds. Most of the references are general, stating the generic name: fowl or bird. Other passages are specific, naming the type of bird — hawk, vulture, etc., and thereby giving a clue in the interpretation of the passage.
When eagles are used in a passage it conveys strength, power, and endurance. When a vulture is used in a passage it usually references death. Jesus said, “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” And the dove—one of the favorite birds of the Biblical writers—references peace, God’s favor, the nation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples to be “wise as serpents, but gentle as doves,” inferring gentleness and goodwill. Birds abound in Jesus’ world.
The fact that Jesus was an admirer and observer of birds has led many Christians to be keen devotees of the amazing animals.
Reformer, Martin Luther, called “birds our schoolmasters.” The Christian poet and clergyman, George Herbert, used birds in some of his poems, even shaping the famous poem “Easter Wings” in the shape of bird wings . C.S Lewis used birds throughout his Chronicles of Narnia books, showing their variety and beauty, naming over a dozen in Aslan’s kingdom . Welsh clergyman and poet, R.S Thomas, was an avid birdwatcher, spending much of his vacations on birding escapades .
More recently, Christian author, Debbie Blue, wrote a book, Consider the Birds, using birds as a means to delve into human nature. And the band, Wovenhand — who has many Christian overtones in their music, released an album also entitled Consider the Birds. Lead singer David Edwards stated, “I wanted to remind myself of the birds. I am often anxious. I need to fall on my faith more” .
But probably the best-known bird-watching clergyman was John Stott. As a great enthusiast of birds, Stott called his admiration of birds, “orni-theology.” One of his best-loved books is named Birds our Teachers. In this work he relates birds to subjects ranging from repentance, self-esteem, gratitude, work, freedom, joy, and love. When I had the honor of meeting John Stott, the book I chose for Him to sign is this marvelous little work.
As I watched the Sandhill cranes at the Open Space — mentioned above for the National Bird Day, I couldn’t help but think of John Stott’s book where he reminds us of Jesus’ command to be bird watchers. Stott states, “It was Jesus Christ himself in the Sermon on the Mount who told us to be bird-watchers! ‘Behold the fowls of the air.” [Jesus’] instruction becomes “watch birds!”
Stott continues, “The Greek verb employed here means to ‘fix the eyes on or take a good look at’.” For Stott, bird watching is simply taking Jesus at His word. Stott concludes, “So we have the highest possible authority for this activity…the Bible tells us that birds have lessons to teach us…”
And instruct they do. Birds are more than just feathery fowl, but teachers tethering us to God’s grace and creativity, helping our faith take flight.
Photo captions: 1) National Bird Day. 2) Sandhill cranes along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. 3) Matthew 6:26. 4) The Birds Our Teachers by John Stott. 5) John Stott bird quote. 6) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and clergyman. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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