The unusual appearances of snowy owls: a visual parable for our time
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
~ Luke 13:34 (NIV)
A prophet is not someone who foretells the future per se. A prophet is one who warns a society when it is headed in the wrong direction, being able to see the logical outcome if a certain course is maintained. There is the passage quoted above in which a city is portrayed as a killer of prophets. If such a statement rings true, it is because when acting as a group, people are usually not receptive to anyone saying they have to change their way of doing things.
Last week, the news item came to my attention that airports are facing the unusual dilemma of the appearance of snowy owls. At JFK Airport, two snowy owls were shot and others chased away. The reason such drastic measures are being taken is that the snowy owls are interfering with air traffic. One ornithological expert is quoted as saying “it’s unusual for snowy owls to migrate in such large numbers to the area.” Perhaps the snowy owls are part of the earth's own prophetic movement.
For years – for decades – there have been voices in the community speaking out against the environmental destruction that has been coming at the hands of modern progress. Sometimes, when necessary, we heeded some of the voices by implementing pollution controls and better forest and land management. Overall, however, we have continued to march ahead, depleting non-renewable resources, pouring chemicals onto the land, and cutting down rain forests. The U.S. cannot bring itself to ratify an international conservation agreement, perhaps out of fear of reprisal from business corporations and “job creators,” or perhaps it is just a reluctance to change our view toward the environment. Still, the voices of warning persist.
Voices of warning have come from environmental groups, but there have also been voices from the environment itself. Frogs in the tropics began dying, ice shelves in the polar regions began melting, and the ozone layer began shrinking. We witnessed ominous colony collapse of honey bees. Those who had ears to hear and eyes to see made note of the trends. Scientific experts made dire predictions. Some listened, but the machinery of modern progress did not slow down. There was too much money at stake, too many jobs in the balance, too much promise of quarterly financial gain.
Now, in an unusual move, snowy owls stand as a majestic warning. We must turn from our present course. Our airlines are not in sync with the natural rhythm of the earth, our addiction to fossil fuel is spiraling out of control. We are on a collision course. We can turn now, or we can wait until resources are depleted. We can find a lifestyle more congruent with our environment, or we can wait until the land is too irreparably scarred to support the human community.
The snowy owl appears to demonstrate the possibility of stopping for a moment. Maybe we could ignore the frogs, but surely we will pay heed to the stately beauty of the snowy owl. Except stopping is not an option for our fast-paced self-important lives. Sadly, killing the prophets remains a tried and true option for a proud people on the move.
Photo: Snowy Owl
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
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