Several weeks ago I parked the car on the side of a rural road south of Ottawa. The snow had melted back to big banks thrown up by the plow. My sons and I scrambled up and over the snow. As we did, the oldest pointed to movement in the forest. A flock of turkeys, annoyed at our slamming of doors and crunching of snow, headed deeper into the tress. We followed their tracks hoping to see them again. We found nothing but a few stray feathers.
This happened to be about the same time our church’s biblical reading cycle had me thinking about Luke 13. That’s in the part of Luke’s gospel where the geography of the story tilts toward Jerusalem. Headed that way, Jesus says, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you have not been willing!” What sort of a hen Jesus had in mind, I’m not sure. Maybe it was a quail or a dove, maybe a chicken. What I am fairly sure of was that he was riffing on the psalms. There God is likened to a hen sheltering the poet under a wing.
For much of the last century it was impossible to see wild turkeys in Ontario. They had been hunted into a localized extinction, their carcasses sold in markets. However, in the 1980s wildlife officials struck a deal with several US states to trade some river otters, moose and partridges for wild turkeys. The exchange netted something like 200 birds, which were let loose on the province’s back forty. The birds did well. Now we see them, not just in forests, but in farm fields and the occasional yard almost all winter. It’s enough to make you smile: a picture of God has been returned to us. If Jesus had walked and talked in Ontario, I think he would have pictured a turkey when he thought about God’s sheltering wing.
Something you’ll notice about actual hens sheltering actual chicks (as opposed to the static picture in your minds-eye) is that it’s a pretty dynamic scene. The hen clucks; the chicks run. If they don’t, the fox or the hawk wins. And that, my preacher’s mind thinks, is where the hope is. The protection God offers isn’t some static hunkering-down. It’s a cluck, a call, an encouragement to move. The hen puts her body between the little ones and danger, but only if the little bug-eaters are willing to move. In Lent I take that as an encouragement to pray. Prayer, whether it’s in the pew or in the forest, is that space we create in our lives for considering God’s voice. Prayer is the silence we keep to hear the cluck of the turkey God.