Tuesday, November 03, 2015
On Vultures Wings
The vultures are circling and I'm okay with that. My Twitter account has been inundated with vultures because of a campaign to save threatened African vultures. Vultures are in tough shape in many parts of the world because of pesticides and human encroachment. While we might think of them as ugly birds they are nature's clean-up crew, designed to effectively address carrion --road kill to you and me. The Zoroastrian religion has traditionally depended on vultures to dispose of human bodies but the decimation of vultures in India has changed the practice. https://kriticalmass.com/p/saving-natures-clean-up-crew/email/0
Vultures just weren't around when I was younger but now we see them everywhere in Ontario as they have been gradually moving northward. Recently I noticed a kettle of forty to fifty vultures swirling above highway 401, near Newcastle, the most I have ever seen together. What was happening in town that day? Maybe we don't want to know!
In her excellent book Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, Debbie Blue gives attention to vultures. In an interview about the book she says this:
I had really never considered the vulture as anything other than horrific and ugly. Culturally, they represent doom and gloom, and that’s how I felt about them too. When I studied them I found they really are beautiful creatures--they take in what’s dead and toxic to everything else, and it gets purified and made nontoxic. The word “nesher” in the Old Testament is often translated as “eagle,” but it’s just as likely to mean “vulture.” Think about the words of Isaiah and imagine them in that light: “The weary will rise up with wings like vultures” and “God bears us up on his wings like vultures.” Vultures rise with the currents. They might even be my favorite bird now.
Hm. The hymn Eagles' Wings as Vultures' Wings?..." And God will raise you up on eagle's wings, Bear you on the breath of dawn"... Well, not exactly catchy, but as Blue observes in the book, vultures depend on air currents for lift and they teeter on the dihedral. Maybe this is better imagery than the big, bold eagle to describe our life in the Spirit.
Who knows, we may be able to save the vultures and the spiritual imagery as well.