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Playing 'chicken' with scripture

POSTED: July 30, 2017 4:40 a.m.
Jerry Johnston/

A few weeks ago on this page I wrote about goats. Last time, it was donkeys. And today, in the third and final prong of the pitchfork, I take on chickens.

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A few weeks ago on this page I wrote about goats. Last time, it was donkeys. And today, in the third and final prong of the pitchfork, I take on chickens.

My grandson Luke has never met a chicken he didn’t like. He studies them, imitates them and eats them.

Years back, in his pre-school, the students were asked to help write a song. One of the lines was, “His eyes were made of chicken.”

Guess who came up with that?

When my son asked him why he loved chickens, he looked at his dad, looked at me, then made some clucking sounds.

So, on the Fourth of July, when two hens appeared in our neighbor’s yard, I thought Luke would be elated.

He hardly took a look at them.

Apparently, he likes the “idea” of chickens more than the real thing.

Well, me, too.

I prefer chicken "thoughts" — like that image in the Bible where Jesus says he's tried to unite Israel like a mother hen gathering her chicks, but the Israelites won't budge.

And, along the same line, people who are smart and sensitive tell me the finest hymn in Christendom is Charles Wesley's “Jesus, Lover of My Soul,” with its haunting phrase, “Cover my defenseless head/With the shadow of Thy wing.”

In the Bible, chickens cover, gather and protect. They call to mind mothering.

Last week, I tuned into a podcast by Richard Rohr, the Catholic activist and contemplative (yes, he says he’s both). And, lo and behold, he was talking about chickens. He read the opening of Genesis. The King James Bible has it: “The Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Rohr, however, claimed the Hebrew scriptures translate it: “God’s spirit hovered over the formless void.”

Then he honed in on that word “hover.”

“Now the verb that’s used (to hover) is again the same verb that’s used for the Holy Spirit overshadowing the womb of Mary,” Rohr said. “We’re not going to see it until then.”

Then he summoned the chickens.

“(To hover) is the verb used for a mother hen, or brood hen, wafting her wings to warm the eggs to protect the chicks. So the very first image of God we have in the Bible is feminine, nurturing.”

Rohr’s point was that many Christians divide the Old Testament from the New with the same stark contrast as God dividing the land from the water. We say the “old” is harsh and the “new” is loving.

But the opening image in the Bible, according to the Torah, is one of God protecting and shielding. It is an image of God covering a defenseless head with the shadow of his wing.

And for Rohr, the God who feels like a mother hen in Genesis is the same God who feels like a mother hen in the Gospels. He has been nurturing, caring and protecting from the beginning.

Anyway.

Sorry if that last bit sounded like one of those television Bible classes, but I found Rohr’s “chicken thoughts” fascinating. And if something fascinates me, I can only hope it might pique your interest, too.

As for my grandson, Luke the “Chicken Boy," I know full well what he’d have to say about hymns, hens and hovering.

He’d say what he always says.

He’d say: “Pluuuuck, pluh, pluh, pluck, pluuuuck.”
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