Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Consider the Birds by Debbie Blue
From biblical times to today, humans have found meaning and significance in the actions and symbolism of birds. We admire their mystery and manners, their strength and fragility, their beauty and their ugliness and perhaps compare these very characteristics to their own lives in the process. Though admired today, the birds of Scripture are largely unseen and underappreciated. From the well-known image of the dove to the birds that gorge on the flesh of the defeated beast in Revelation, birds play a dynamic part in Scripture. They bring bread to the prophets. They are food for the wanderers. As sacrifices, they are the currency of mercy. Highlighting 10 birds throughout Scripture, author Debbie Blue explores their significance in both familiar and unfamiliar biblical stories and illustrates how and why they have represented humanity across culture, Christian tradition, art, and contemporary psyche. With these (usually) minor characters at the forefront of human imaginations, poignant life lessons illuminate such qualities as desire and gratitude, power and vulnerability, insignificance and importance even as readers gain a better understanding that God s mysterious grace is sometimes most evident in His simplest of creatures.
It took me a little time to figure out whether or not I liked this unusual book, and I decided I like it a lot.
To begin with, the illustrations are lovely. Debbie Blue has believed for a long time that birds represent far more than what we see. Their amazing link to dinosaurs, being able to defy gravity and fly, and migrate for miles without reading maps and compasses is just the start. She's carefully examined a selection of birds in the light of history, mythology, science, symbolism and art and written a very enlightening book that often turns our preconceptions on their heads.
Did you know that the vulture, for example, may challenge western commercial culture's narrow definition of what is beautiful? Like me, you might have thought of them as repulsive opportunists with suitably creepy looks, yet we're challenged to see them as hovering mothers and purifying cleansers of the world. Similarly, ostriches give us lessons in self-discernment and grandiosity, while the common house sparrow may challenge us to think differently about common notions of personal significance. If God's eye is on the sparrow, why are ours always roaming around, searching for something with more prestige?
I found it quite moving to see that, despite their ancient ancestry, birds can be so vulnerable to thoughtless human activity. This in seen in the examples of pelicans, sparrows, eagles and vultures in the pages of this book. Only when they are driven to the verge of extinction in certain areas does it become evident what important ecological roles they serve.
I'd have to warn anyone who just wants a field guide about birds that this isn't what you're getting. It has just as much to say about humanity and the way we choose to live. In fact, sometimes I lost the thread, found myself deep in some philosophical observation and thought, 'How did I get here?' (For example, the chapter about quail ends up making us think about making hypocrites of our children by dictating how they ought to pray.) However, you can always trace it back to the birds. Just be prepared for lots of interesting segues you wouldn't normally expect.
Overall, even though I don't entirely agree with every point Debbie Blue makes, it's a fascinating book and I'll be reading it over again. In fact, I've ordered a copy for a family member who's a keen bird watcher and also interested in philosophy.
I received a copy of this book from Net Galley and Abingdon Press in return for an honest review.
Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible Available at Amazon