Sunday, March 22, 2009

Crows and Songbirds

Proverbs 12:18 “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

While out walking yesterday I heard a very strange bird call. It sounded almost like a human trying to imitate a crow and another human calling back. The call was “caw, caw” but not in the raspy tone of crows…more like a conversation between two human actors trying to make their point understood by saying the word “caw” in different tones. It’s hard to describe. As I searched for the source, however, I discovered that it was not people saying “caw,” but actual crows. I found them and watched and listened to the two of them “talking” to each other. No harsh sounds, no raspiness.

Hearing that made me remember a number of years back when I lived in Dover, NH and had birds and critters of all kinds on my back deck. It was there, for the first and only time in my life thus far, that I heard a crow actually sing. It was a song as lovely as any traditional songbird, and it drew me to the window to see what new bird had come to bring such a melody. And there, on the deck railing not ten feet from the window, was a crow…singing. I had heard that it was possible. Crows are known to imitate other birds and even the human voice. But in thousands of encounters with crows in the wild, I have now heard something different than a raspy caw only twice.

Thinking of that made me remember that a key theme in the book of Proverbs is the use of the tongue. Actions may speak louder than words, but words reveal the heart and can get you in a pile of hot water. Whether you’re talking about lies or gossip, angry words or just mindless blather, Proverbs comes down on all of it, contrasting the fool with the wise as in the passage quoted here.

In this season of Lenten discipline, I am remembering the crow. The bird who usually just makes a harsh racket but yet is capable of beautiful song and gentle speech reminds me that I, too, am capable of both. For which type of speech am I known? Do others so associate my speech with harshness that they would call a lovely song a rarity? Do I whine more than encourage? Is my speech a sword thrust or a healing balm?

It’s easy for us sometimes just to claim we’re not songbirds…that we don’t have the gift to make our speech a soothing melody. No, they are the songbirds and I’m the one who has to convey the harsh reality. I’m the prophet crying in the wilderness until my voice is raspy from the effort. Perhaps. But I will never forget the day I heard a crow sing.

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