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Wild Listening




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


Learning to bird by ear simultaneously expanded my birding exponentially and ruined the experience. OK, perhaps it didn’t ruin it as much as transformed it into something that ceased to resemble what it was before.


The fact that many, perhaps even most, birds are small beings with out sized voices, hearing them is invariably the first indication of their presence, and all too often the only proof of their existence. As an example of something no “normal” birder would think, when I arrived at a marsh at 4:30 AM this past week, I was disappointed that it wasn’t still dark. I wasn’t there to watch birds as much as I was there to hear them. The never seen Barred Owl hooting in the distance and the secretive Virginia Rails calling from the reeds proved my point.


Later that morning, I was with other birders on an organized bird walk, watching them watch a Magnolia Warbler while I was listening to what may be singing in the distance. I had to remind myself that I was schlepping a camera for a reason, so I struggled in vain to capture a shot of a bird well concealed by leaves teasing me by singing a clear wheat wheat wheatio.


Obviously, the goal of identification is certainty, so choosing one tool instead of dipping into the tool box is a silly option. Thus, when I heard a Blue-winged Warbler at the next stop of my long birding day, I knew that had to lay eyes on it to make sure that it wasn’t a Golden-winged that had learned the other’s song or one of the hybrids that results from those two species interbreeding. That song was also a lesson in not being limited by history and tradition. If I had believed the eBird app, I would have said that this bird was too rare to be expected. Instead I believed the wild voice calling me to investigate.


Jesus didn’t go into the wilderness after his baptism for a vacation, in fact, chances are good that he wouldn’t have chosen to go at all apart from the push of the Spirit. We tend to focus on the encounter with the accuser and the temptations, missing the important point that those were divine tools meant to be used for discernment. Jesus was not meant to simply resist and survive, rather, he had to listen to voice calling in the wilderness and chase the Wild Goose Spirit. And the reason we are told the story is not to set him apart but to set him as our example. God spoke then and God is still speaking. Are you listening?


Prayer: But God, we’ve never done it that way before. You may need to raise your voice for us to hear the call to the Wild Goose chase. Amen.

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