Then Allah sent a crow scratching the ground to show him how to cover the dead body of his brother. He said: Woe is me! Am I not able to be as this crow and cover the dead body of my brother? So he became of those who regret. Quran 5:31
Crows are quite intelligent. They are capable of recognizing individuals, not only others of their species, but they demonstrated the ability to remember humans who have posed a threat or provided food. They have been trained to collect litter, imitate language, and have even shown the ability to create and use simple tools. Crows have figured prominently in the human imagination. Some cultures have seen them as harbingers and creators, though they have been consistently associated with death. Both Jewish folklore and the teaching of the Quran suggest that the first human burial was the result of learning from a crow. The fact that they are opportunistic omnivores means that they will occasionally scavenge, which explains why seeing them collecting on the bodies of the dead on battlefields led to calling a gathering of crows a murder.
One thing they have in common with humans is something rare in the natural world, they hold funerals. While they are uncommon, researchers have been able to instigate them with the help of a taxidermy crow. When the crows see a fallen comrade, a few will arrive and begin calling to others with loud caws. Soon, large numbers of crows will roost on every available perch. Alternating between moments of eerie silence and raucous cries, it certainly resembles the wails of mourners. The crows may or may not be lamenting, but the ritual surely serves a purpose. All the evidence points to a sort of crime scene investigation. They are gathering data from the scene of their fellow’s demise that will help them avoid a similar fate.
When we experience the loss of loved ones, we gather to tell the stories that not only help us remember the one who is gone, but also help to create the living memory that will keep the person with us as we continue in life. Our grieving serves a purpose similar to that of the crow funerals. We are curating the details of holy story that adds another saint to the pantheon that we experience as the thin veil between this life and the next.
Prayer: Risen and living Christ, be with us in the alternating quiet and keening of our mourning as we learn what it means to be in communion with all the saints. Amen.