Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage (Psalm 91) transports me to the swampland of Big Woods, Arkansas, where ornithologists and amateur bird watchers now flock in hopes of catching a glimpse of what was thought for a long time to be an extinct bird. The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is better known as the “Lord God Bird,” presumably from its time as a prominent fixture of the swamps and forests of the South, when its stunning appearance often provoked responses of “Lord God – would you look at that!” from enthusiastic watchers. A 2005 sighting and video footage of the rare bird down in the Big Woods prompted “Lord God” exclamations from bird lovers around the world. Until that sighting, no one imagined that the bird had survived the massive deforestation that took place in the reconstruction period of southern history, when thoughtless development claimed the protective habitat of many species of wildlife.
Since the theme of this week’s Daily Passages is “Temptations” I can’t help but hear the great Life Force of the swamplands singing to the Ivory Billed Woodpecker in a key just out of its range, causing it to strain to get the high notes of the opening line – I know you wanta leave me, but I refuse to let you go. This is the same line sung in this week’s Psalm, as God refuses to let go of the plaintive peckerwoods who are facing fear and destruction on all sides. The faithful followers are cast as a flock of birds, with Satan portrayed as the evil fowler preying on the fine feathered friends of God. The promise of the Psalm is one of deliverance from the snare of the fowler. And the promised deliverer is billed as none other than the great Lord God Bird – the One who will cover us with feathers, under whose wings we will find refuge. The protective shelter found under that wingspan is massive indeed – though a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, it will not come near you.
Jesus certainly had to confront the fowler in his wilderness trials. The devil set all sorts of snares to entice the Lord to leave his destined path, including a trap comprised of words from Psalm 91 – he will give his angels charge over you. But Jesus was sheltered under the pinions of the Lord God Bird and fulfilled the assuring words found in the rest of the Psalm, the serpent you shall trample underfoot. While we can readily affirm Jesus’ defiant trampling of the fowler there in his wilderness experience, the talisman-like blessed assurance of this Psalm seems out of place 2000 years later. Its promise that plague and pestilence and terror and violence will not come near you rings hollow and doesn’t register for those who have indeed been victimized by plague, pestilence, terror and violence. The evidence would lead many to believe that the protective Lord God Bird has gone extinct, with the thoughtless development of our world destroying the habitat of faith. Deliverance from the fowler’s snare does appear to be a rare experience in these days when addiction and greed and violence has so ensnared and captivated our culture. And yet there are sightings. People testify to it. Lives are changed, love transforms enemies into friends, foreigners feel a gracious welcome, and materialism loses its grip. It’s rare indeed, but it happens. I know that whenever I experience this kind of grace or hope or mercy or catch a sighting of it in my community, it does prompt an exclamation of “Lord God – would you look at that!” To be honest, I’d give anything for there to be more sightings of the soaring love and welcome and mercy of the great Lord God, and like the Temptations, I ain’t too proud to beg!