Baby owls were recently born in a nest where I work. For weeks, we watched. First, the observance of an adult bird hovered over eggs. Next, the emergence of tiny heads barely peaking out from a nest high in the trees. Flimsy and exposed, the branch swayed freely in the wind. There were no leaves so I thought it was an odd choice for a home. Crows darted and screeched near the imperiled nest as the exchange of male and female owl provided warmth and protection for the tiny birds beneath their wings.
Empty spaces soon filled with leaves giving the impression of camouflage. The first thing in the morning, I found myself looking up. Most of the time, I couldn't see much but knowing they were there gave me pause. On particularly windy days, I glimpsed the nest moving freely as if rocking babies to sleep in a soft rustling lullaby. Cool mornings or sun-soaked afternoons, I found my eyes looking upward toward the clouds of heaven.
Early Monday morning amid piles of papers, busy phones and people, I received a phone call from a neighbor that a failed flight attempt left one of the birds in a refuge nearby but only two days later, at the end of a work day, the baby owl was returned. Covered with a yellow blanket, I watched as the bird was exposed. Much larger than I had anticipated, it's large round eyes, perfectly formed triangular beak and large claws were split second impressions.
The best place, said the bird rescuer, was with it's mother as she returned the baby to a low branch beneath the nest. I took this picture, (see above) seconds upon freedom launch. Staring into it's eyes, I quickly looked up toward the nest. My gaze was met with two very large, round eyes looking straight down. It was mother owl.
Crows - the wolves of the sky aggressively make their presence known. Their pursuit was anything but subtle: dropping nuts to the pavement, they dove down for content. Their jabbing sounds embed the echo of cackling noise, if only I tuned my ear to hear.
The sound drew me to an exterior courtyard. I had just gotten to work but the sound high in the trees was less of a symphony and more of a bullying sound from an assemblage of crows. There were two babies: one in a lower branch and another much higher. In some adjacent green trees farther away appeared to be both male and female mature owls trying to distract the large group of crows that were darting through leaves and branches.
The storm that brewed had less to do with weather than it did for survival. As I checked the scene throughout the day, the crows pursuit was relentless. The wind grew. The baby owl I had befriended in my mind was much higher in the tree which told me, not only had it survived the night but, it's wings were strong enough to carry it into flight. I looked up. "Don't stretch your wings now", I whispered softly. Through wind and crow, "I can only hope it will be spared", I supposed.
Each of the three babies placed in my arms at birth left me in awe and wonder. It gave moments of pause - beyond words, really. It was in the quiet, still of mornings or the wakening cries of night that I drew closer to God. The rest of the time was a flurry of activity; it was a yearning to build. As I look back, I smile for the breathes between the pause as a mother owl swooping in to protect what was hers.
In Acts 27:13, a storm arises. "When a gentle south wind began to blow, they thought they had obtained what they wanted; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the "northeaster" swept down from the island. The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along."
(20) When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved."
Only days within being placed upon a low branch, I watched the baby owl now perching itself up high in a tree; it stretched it's wings into a gale force and teetered back and forth as if it was going to be swept into the influencing wind.
We know storms will arise - that is easy to predict but what about the ones that are a little more subtle? They are the ones that gnaw at our protective coating. They masticate the marrow of our souls. Like crows, they dive deep into the interior of heart and intellect in order to move us closer to redemption.
When the wind begins to blow, we teeter on branches. We have worked so hard at perfecting our nests through the homes, careers and churches we build. We stretch our wings like arrogance announcing our identity to the world through an outward lens. Christ, through the Holy Spirit, stirs our souls and topples us off our perch directly into the storm for the purpose of becoming more like him.
It is scary, exhilarating, lonely, confusing; it is a softening.
"They thought they had obtained what they wanted." so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore. With adult children, the breeze seems easy - sail into comfort and happiness where the years of hard work has finally paid off. When I signed up for religion, however, I didn't gain an assembly of community but an anchoring. It is the piercing of flesh through the blood shed on a cross.
Where I once had thoughts of rocking chairs, grand-children and a slow fading into the sunset, those thoughts have become, instead, a yearning for the power of a humble prayer whispered many years ago; do my children have a compass firmly pointed to you, Lord? Will the God of heaven and earth honor the promises made, "train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." proverbs 22:6? Will the quiet prayers uttered over newborn babies provide strong wings for flight?
If you turn to the gospel message, Christianity was never about the comfort of our nests but in the deepening of our relationship with him and a widening of that message to others. It is love spilled out for you and me.
The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind so they gave into it and were driven along. Where culture tells us it is time to rest; scripture tells us the story is just about to begin. Like wise owl, the gospel message has only begun to be perfected in us; we only need wider wineskins to carry it. The message of the cross is NOT to be driven along but to anchor our souls more intentionally in Him. Through the power of the holy spirit, our prayers are more impassioned and our pursuit more intentional.
Where many men and women my age our feathering their nests, God is calling a few to put their trust in Him - the scary, unknown of faith that the gospel message is not only true but vital. It is an eternal truth through the power of Jesus to weather any storm.
When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved ... the breathes between the pause.
Will the next generation be equipped to spread the good news? or will we allow the doom of this world to sour our perspectives? We hope for that which we cannot see. We have faith in the promises he has set. We trust in the perfecter of the good news.
We love, not in our own pursuits, but in the one who loved us first.
I looked up. "Don't stretch your wings now", I whispered softly. Through wind and crow, "I can only hope it will be spared", I supposed.
As I looked up ... two very large and round eyes looked straight down.
A fellow point guard for the faith; a writer, deep thinker, music loving, jeep blazing ... follower of Jesus.