bird (including both birds of prey and domestic fowl)
A Clever Verse for Context
How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen (ornis) gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)
It’s a mystery. We have no problem depicting God as lamb, lion, flame, and giant disembodied hand, but the number of church banners decorated with God the Mother Hen that I have seen are few and far between (though I have seen them). God as chicken (duck, turkey, peacock etc.) is not all that impressive. The outraged clucking of a concerned mother hen does not measure up well to the thunder and trumpet blasts that come from Mount Sinai in the book of Exodus (Exodus 20). But God comes into our world not just awe us, but to teach us and even change us. There is wisdom in God the Mother Bird, determined to round up Her wayward chicks. There is wisdom in a God who has only feathers and love to place between Her Own and the evils of the world. As bird we see God as persistent, loving, and vulnerable. In the same way God is also revealed to us in Christ Jesus: persistent, loving, and vulnerable.
The word ornis in Greek is used for all kinds of birds (in Luke’s text, the word for “brood” helps to indicate that we’re dealing with chickens/domestic fowl). In a didactic poem called the Works and Days, the Greek poet Hesiod (7th cent. BCE) tells a story about two different birds: a hawk and a nightingale. He describes how the hawk, a “swift-winged bird (ornis)” catches the nightingale in his terrible talons (onux, see last Sunday’s etymology!). When the nightingale cries out, the hawk replies that only a fool tries to struggle with those who are stronger than him (see Hesiod, Works and Days, lines 202-213).
Clever Questions for Further Reflection
Who do you admire not for their strength but for their humility and vulnerability?
When have you seen gentleness accomplish more than strength?
A Clever Prayer to Close
1 Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.[a]
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
3 Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
4 He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
5 You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
6 nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.