It was only natural therefore, that, growing up on a farm, I often wondered what it would be like if the animals therein could actually talk. (The 1960’s television show, Mr. Ed, about an architect and his talking Palomino horse, only served to underscore my fascination with this notion.)
Until I got into high school, that is. For once I did, we had to read George Orwell’s infamous allegorical novella titled Animal Farm. If you are familiar with the plot, you will remember that the animals on Farmer Jones’ farm decide to turn on him, overthrow him, and take possession of his farm; all in order that all the animals could live forever thereafter in harmony, free from oppression and exploitation.
Spoiler alert here… In the end, the pigs wind up learning to walk on two legs rather than four, before moving into Farmer Jones's house, where they then proceed to lord it over all the other (four legged) animals in his stead. Needless to say, after reading this, I was no where near as keen to see the animals on our farm able to communicate, either with me or with one another!
These days, after decades off the farm, I have now moved back to the country, where I have once again begun to interact with animals. And while, in my absence, they have yet to obtain the power of human speech, I find that they nonetheless are speaking to my heart on a daily basis.
As I take my morning walk each day, I encounter any number of animals, both tame and wild. Today, it seemed to be the birds’ turn to speak. First, I encountered a flock of over twenty wild turkeys. They were busy feeding, scratching and foraging with every step as they made their way through the woods. They seemed to say to me that it was okay for me to pass, as long as I made no attempt whatsoever either to stop or turn in their direction. Their message was clear: “Live and let live.”
A little further down the road, I came upon a “murder” of crows. (Yes, believe it or not, that is the technical term for a group of crows.) True to their appellation, they had nothing short of carnage on their minds; for they were in the process of hounding a poor red-tailed hawk nearly to death.
I knew they were frustrated at my approach, as they heaped excessive amounts of verbal abuse upon me while they flew just far enough away so as to be considered safe. The volume and intensity of their frustration toward me only intensified as the poor beleaguered hawk took advantage of the opportunity to slip off in the other direction. Their message was also clear: “How dare you!”
A bit further down the road, I came upon a “gaggle” of wild Canadian geese. (Again, this is the proper term for a group of geese.) As I was reflecting upon their beauty and gracefulness, I was once again spoken to in my heart.
On one side of the road was a pasture with a pond wherein some forty or more wild geese came gracefully gliding down to alight and frolic. At the same time, directly across the road was another pasture with a pond upon which swam three solid white, tame geese. And while no goose actually spoke to me in what we might call human language, all of them still communicated volumes to me by the characteristics they displayed.
You see, busy as they are commanding the skies, the former gaggle seems to make only a periodic appearance at this particular pond. By contrast, the latter gaggle, which never takes to the air, is always in the same place, each and every day. In the process, while the former exemplifies strength, freedom, and grace; the latter merely exemplifies complacency, repression, and ultimately, ineptitude. The message here was plain: “Don’t settle!”
As I was reflecting on these things, the Lord brought to my memory a parable first told by the famous Danish Theologian, Søren Kierkegaard. It is commonly referred to as “The Parable of the Geese”. According to Kierkegaard…
“A certain flock of geese lived together in a barnyard with high walls around it. Because the corn was good and the barnyard was secure, these geese would never take a risk. One day a philosopher goose came among them.
He was a very good philosopher and every week they listened quietly and attentively to his learned discourses. ‘My fellow travelers on the way of life,’ he would say, ‘can you seriously imagine that this barnyard, with great high walls around it, is all there is to existence? I tell you, there is another and a greater world outside, a world of which we are only dimly aware. Our forefathers knew of this outside world. For did they not stretch their wings and fly across the trackless wastes of desert and ocean, of green valley and wooded hill? But alas, here we remain in this barnyard, our wings folded and tucked into our sides, as we are content to puddle in the mud, never lifting our eyes to the heavens which should be our home.’
The geese thought this was very fine lecturing. ‘How poetical,’ they thought. ‘How profoundly existential. What a flawless summary of the mystery of existence.’ Often the philosopher spoke of the advantages of flight, calling on the geese to be what they were. After all, they had wings, he pointed out. What were wings for, but to fly with? Often he reflected on the beauty and the wonder of life outside the barnyard, and the freedom of the skies.
And every week the geese were uplifted, inspired, moved by the philosopher’s message. They hung on his every word. They devoted hours, weeks, months to a thoroughgoing analysis and critical evaluation of his doctrines. They produced learned treatises on the ethical and spiritual implications of flight. All this they did. But one thing they never did. They did not fly! For the corn was good, and the barnyard was secure!”
Ouch! I trust you see the point here; for Kierkegaard was right; and his message was clear! May we each refuse to play it safe in our respective barnyards, merely moved and inspired by an occasional inspirational message, while never acting upon it. May we choose, instead, to act upon what we know to be true all along! May we dare to actually spread our wings, flap them vigorously, and actually risk taking to the air!
Perhaps this is just what the Old Testament Prophet, Isaiah, had in mind (in chapter, 40, verse 31) when he talked about those who are devoted to the Lord as “mounting up with wings like eagles”.
After all, were we not made for much more than merely floating around on some artificial pool inside some ostensibly secure enclosure? Were we not, instead, made to take to the skies and soar?!
Of course we were! As Leonardo Da Vinci put it, “Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards." Given this, my friends, perhaps, just perhaps, today is indeed the perfect day to take to the air!
PARABLE SOURCES: Available widely online. See, for instance:
https://revseanpeters.blogspot.com/2014/05/kierkegaards-parable-of-geese.html; as well as:
Da VINCI QUOTE: https://hangar.flights/story/42/26-quotes-to-inspire-your-aviation-journey.
SEE ALSO: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0061584/;
SCRIPTURE SOURCE: https://biblehub.com/isaiah/40-31.htm.