The theology of birds

Indian Myna

Photo via Wikipedia. Click on the image to read more about the Common Myna/Indian Myna.


Indian Mynas are not popular birds in South Africa. Roving in pairs, they are quick to get territorial about any comestibles that may come their way and fazed only by birds as big as the Hadidah. One of my bird watching guides describes them as having a “windmakerige stappie” (a cocky way of walking). They strut about suburban backyards, city streets, roadside ditches and can-swept fields like they own the place. If they were people, their thumbs would be sticking out of their pocketed hands in jeans with their knees ripped.

Yesterday during Bible study I had the pleasure of being distracted from the woes and frankly bad friendship choices in the book of Job by watching a solitary Indian Myna cavort about. We have this big wooden cross we use during Easter services. The rest of the time it stands outside, beneath the roofed area between our church’s two halls (named “Wesley” and “Grace” respectively; we are such Methodists). From where I was sitting in Grace Hall, I had an uninterrupted view of this Indian Myna’s careless blasphemy. It hopped about on the cross – first on both of its “arms”, then on the top. Here it paused to puff out its feathers and rearrange them and see to its toilette; then continued its promenade along the roof’s support before finally flapping off.

You know when you’re walking down a street and you happen to glance through a window or into a yard, or when you’re driving along and your eyes slide over the occupants of the cars you sail past, or when you overhear a garble of conversation in a restaurant – and you observe a moment of those people’s lives, just long enough to see them leave or arrive, to see them call out to their kids or talk on their phones or any of the millions of other minutiae that make up life? Those moments tend to feel…liminal. Watching this Indian Myna preen about felt a lot like that – it felt like a snatch of the divine. Seeing other people do the things we do reminds us that we do them; it brings back an awareness of the mechanics of daily living. Seeing an Indian Myna carnival on a symbol so sacred to the Christian faith brought back an awareness of God that I sometimes fail to find in the high rafters of our church building.

After all Job and his friends’ whining, after Elihu’s self-satisfied little addendum in Job 35-37, God replies to Job’s accusations of unfairness and protestations of innocence with a two-chapter speech that answers none of the questions Job had spent the previous thirty-six chapters asking. In fact, God spends two chapters asking Job the kind of questions that Job hadn’t thought to ask! And at the end of that, Job is a humbled man. The book of Job is, theologically speaking, a tough book to interpret – but I like to think that this discourse of God’s, called the Yahweh speech, is that momentary glimpse, that momentary peace of acknowledging that the world is so very big, that God is so very gracious, that we are all so very loved – that we find in unexpected places, like a bird on a cross.