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Gifts in Darkness

The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill

over the place where the child lay. They were overjoyed at seeing the star and, upon entering

the house, found the child with Mary, his mother. ~ Matthew 2:9-11

You will never see a cuter, deadly fuzz ball than a Northern Saw-whet Owl. They are tiny and

truly adorable, and unless you are an even smaller rodent, they are not dangerous. They are too

small to do you any harm, even if they got their talons in you, it would only feel like a pin-prick.

If they wanted to bite you, they could rip a bit of flesh, but on the whole they tend not to feel

threatened by humans. When they roost during the day, they tend to be easily approachable

and slow to flush. Perhaps it is because large mammals don’t tend to pose a threat to them. It is

not that they are fearless because they are predators. In fact, that would likely lead them to

posture threateningly when approached. Rather, they are also prey, so they have adapted


Over the past couple of decades, research on these migratory nocturnal hunters has revealed

interesting data. Bird banders set up mist nets at night and played audio lures to attract the

birds. Many of the banded birds have been recaptured, providing good information about

movement and age for this species. As it turns out, they are much more abundant over a much

wider range than ever suspected previously. One interesting pattern that was observed at the

banding station where I volunteered was that the biggest flights were during the new moon. In

fact, one night there was a lunar eclipse and on the next run to check the nets we collected a

few birds after having none on the previous checks while the moon was bright. The probable

explanation is that while owls can certainly hunt in near total darkness, the moon is a help in

locating prey. So, not only is the night of the full moon better for Saw-whets to hunt and thus

makes sense to stay put, it is also a better night for larger owls, such as Barred and Great

Horned to turn the smaller Saw-whet into its dinner.

It is hard to think of darkness as a gift. Even as adults, a healthy fear of the dark is warranted.

Danger certainly can lurk in the shadows and we need to be careful when moving in the dark.

But we need to be careful not to give excess power to the unknown, allowing that which we

can’t see to control us. The Magi followed a star to find the infant messiah. They must have

welcomed the darkness every evening as the sun set so that they could continue their journey.

We often don’t consider the gift that struggle can bring. We should not seek out suffering

intentionally, but we all know that it will come to us, so we certainly ought to seek to learn

lessons from the pain. Perhaps we can learn from the owls how to adapt, taking appropriate

caution while finding the gifts in darkness.

Prayer: Light of the world, shine forth from us, keep us safe as we learn the gifts in darkness.


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