by Pastor George Van Alstine
Australian scientists studying bird behavior have recently stumbled on a fascinating survival technique practiced by the tiny white-blue-and-black fairy wren. When they were analyzing variations in the fairy wren’s calls, they noticed that baby nestlings used a special call when the mother arrived at the nest with food. Only when she heard this particular call did the mother release the food to her baby. This helped keep her from accidentally feeding babies from eggs laid in her nest by a mother cuckoo, who uses this practice as a way of getting free nanny care.
After many controlled experiments, the scientists found other interesting aspects of this fairy wren behavior. The baby-bird calls were not the same from one nest to another; in fact, the feeding language pattern was, in subtle ways, unique in every mother/nestling relationship. The scientists at first thought this must be passed on genetically from mother to baby, but they discovered that the special feeding signals were taught by the mother while the baby was still in the egg. She began singing the unique musical phrase a few days before hatching, and the baby was able to echo it back as soon as it breathed its first lungful of air.
When I read this, my response was, “That’s amazing!” I actually experienced three levels of That’s amazing!
The first That’s amazing! had to do with the bird behavior itself. This is just one little aspect of the living experience of one species of the estimated nine million species of living things in God’s creation. How many billions of TV reality shows could be filled with the everyday dramas of all the living creatures on earth, large and small? We certainly think our human episodes eclipse all the others in importance, but maybe God is just as into the next chapter of “Mother Fairy Wren Comes Home with a Juicy Worm” as he is into “The Aches and Pains of (your name here).” On another channel he may be watching the news headline: “Another Worm Fatality from Feathered Air Attack.”
The second That’s amazing! came from my respect and awe toward the many fields of science and the people who dedicate their lives to trying to understand nature’s wonders and mysteries. Many evangelical Christians still see science as the enemy of Biblical faith, afraid that scientists are trying to describe a universe with no place for God. I grew up under this kind of teaching, and it was a struggle during my college years as a biology major in a secular university. It was a great day when I discovered the difference between Evolution (with a capital “E”) and evolution (with a small “e”). The conclusion I came to was that Evolution is a religion that tries to explain the universe entirely by science, leaving no room for God; evolution is an unfolding discernment of how God created living things over time, one species developing into another, from simplicity to complexity, culminating in humans who uniquely bear his image. To me, Evolution seems to be a fantasy; evolution a scientifically verifiable fact. Scientists who humbly follow their inquisitive journeys are reading God’s thoughts after him.
My third That’s amazing! was the realization that this mother-bird/baby-bird interaction was teaching me something wonderful about our relationship with God through prayer. You are dependent on him, just as a baby bird is helpless without its mother. Prayer is your way of calling for the food only he can give you. You chirp, and beg, and peck at his beak. But he wants to hear that special, unique little song he taught you while you were incubating into your emergent new birth. It’s not a full-throated, mature song of faith, because you were just a baby when you learned it. To the ears of God, your prayer is a one-of-a-kind sound that always gets his attention. . . and the food he has for you.