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Holy Spirit Auditions

Immediately the Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him. ~Mark 1:12-13

The dove has had a good run as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And I adore the Celtic offering of the Wild Goose. But divinity is so splendidly multifaceted that we surely could use a full array of avian metaphors. Thus I offer for your consideration, the Red-winged Blackbird.

Hear me out, those red epaulets make for a nice reminder of the tongues of fire at Pentecost and these birds know how to put them to good use. If you watch them calling, you can see them wind up and then belt out a raucous “conk-er-ee” leaning in, shoulders first, to show off their fluffed up calling card. Surely, you’ve had those moments when you were awakened to the reality of what Spirit was demanding that felt like this unavoidable display. Or maybe there was a time when you had strayed off the path, perhaps too close to where you ought not be, and the Spirit stared you down with an added shout of “get off the lawn!”

Then there is the surprise factor that Red-winged Blackbirds are expert at. There is always that one bird that lingers late then hangs around all winter, sometimes sneaking to your feeder once in a while for a surprise visit or just finding cover in the marsh with hundreds of Starlings. The female is the queen of stealth. She is likely the most misidentified bird in North America, or at least the one causing the greatest identification consternation. She looks like an overgrown sparrow, or at least sort of, but not quite. There is precious little to make you think that she is a Red-winged Blackbird, or even a species of blackbird at all. She shows up well after the boys have staked out their territories and quickly slips into the reeds to set up housekeeping. How Spirit-like, always sneaking in when least expected and setting up house before you even notice.

Maybe this suggestion doesn’t sing to you, that’s OK, your mileage may vary. Still, regardless whether it is a dove, goose, blackbird, or symbol of your choosing, the point remains that Spirit surprises and compels us. It may be an irresistible attraction or a kick-in-the-pants shove, either way it is the divine force that will dog you until you respond, not because you owe a debt, but because you a due a great gift, one that will transform you forever. The Spirit is calling, what are you going to do?

Prayer: Holy Singer, we hear you, teach us our parts so we can sing your kindom into reality here and now. Amen.


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