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I Do Believe in Barn Owls

They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” ~ Mark 1:27

The first time we finally caught a glimpse of a Barn Owl in the nest box at Brigantine on a World Series of Birding, my teammate, Carl, did his best Cowardly Lion imitation proclaiming “I do believe in Barn Owls, I do, I do, I do”. The Cowardly Lion was proclaiming his less-than-positive belief in spooks while he was frightened in the haunted forest. It’s not terribly clear why he would affirm his fears, perhaps that helps explain his cowardliness. Our statement of faith was confirmation of a hopeful belief that the reports over years were surely true even if we had never personally verified them.

Hopefulness is a hallmark of birding, one which helps to overcome fear. I’ve spent many hours in dark, quiet spaces that under other circumstances might be filled with fear, but believing that those eyes glowing in the night, or the fluttering of silent wings, or even the threatening hissing are the owl you seek, not some spook contains the potential fright.

On the other hand, if you are inclined to believe scary ghosts, a close encounter with an owl at night would be considerable evidence. Truth be told, even when expecting an appearance it is easy to get spooked.

We cannot know what it meant that the man Jesus healed was tormented by an unclean spirit. It may have been a chemical imbalance in his brain. It may have been emotional scars. Regardless, he was possessed by a force of some sort that stole his ability to think, feel, and behave normally. Yes, the healing may have involved supernatural power, but it is also true that good news of God’s healing presence is also sufficient to reorient us when we are possessed by our negative thoughts and feelings.

When we find ourselves in the deep night of the soul we can choose to cower in fear, expecting danger, but we can likewise choose to embrace the mystery and hope to find surprises that bless not curse.

Prayer: God of all the hours, still our spirits as you gather us under your wing. Amen.


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