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Fast as the Slowest Bird

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. ~ Acts 2:1-4

When a large gathering of shorebirds take off suddenly as one from a mudflat, experienced birders know to look up in the direction that the flock is moving away from because chances are very good that that there is a falcon streaking in looking for a meal. This is the opposite phenomenon that what you may have experienced at your backyard feeders, where things will sometimes grow suddenly still and quiet. The alert that there is a predator lurking nearby is all the birds playing freeze tag, becoming statues since the slightest movement could betray their location. Out on the beach, both predator and prey lack cover, so the chase is on.

Clearly, my biologically predator brain has not developed the flight-or-fight-or-freeze instinct as effectively as these prey species. Falcons rely on their speed and maneuverability, so they typically take their prey on the wing, not off the ground. Perhaps this is just a result of the prey evolving to fly rather than freeze after learning that the odds are better in the air. Regardless, the odds are better for the flock, if not for the individual. Staying together in as tight a formation as possible creates a one-for-all defense, not exposing any particular individuals to threat. They are all in it together.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were taking the freeze option, locking themselves in a room together. The issue was that they had a faulty threat assessment. They feared earthly powers and were hunkering down for safety. They knew better than to attempt a fight. But the real threat was from God’s Spirit, which they mistook as a docile dove instead of the fierce-some falcon that was about to descend in wind and flame.

Somehow in our evolution as disciples of Christ, we have gained the mistaken notion that once we have been pushed by wind and empowered by fire that we are on our own. Somehow “me and Jesus” is enough. Perhaps we have too much of the fight instinct in us (we are predators after all) so we choose to take on the world, no matter how Quixotic it may be. Maybe we need to relearn that when we take flight we do it together: a flock only as fast as the slowest bird.

Prayer: Swift Spirit, as you scatter us, remind me that I’m not safe unless we are safe. Amen.


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