A friend recently gave me a lovely pair of earrings – some type of bird. She said she felt God wanted me to have them, but had no clue why or what the symbolism of them would be.
We asked those in the know and found they are swallows. The search was on – what could swallows teach me spiritually as I continue the journey of grief-healing?
Swallows, I read, have unerring sense of place and dogged tenacity: swallows insist on nesting in precisely the same place every year. Even first-year breeders will try to select a nesting site within half a mile of where they were born and raised — providing they survive the hazardous 6,000 mile journey to and from their migrating site in West Africa.
Tenacious. (good). Single-minded determination to return to the place of birthing and nesting. (what is my place/story of spiritual birth – where is my place of nesting (Psa. 91:4 He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge) do I run there on purpose as a first and only choice rejecting other options despite the hurdles in my journey?)
Yes. I can learn a lot from swallows.
Scripture on swallows
Prov. 26:2 NASB – Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying, So a curse without cause does not alight. (tsanach, tsaw-nakh´; to alight; (transitive) to cause to descend, i.e. drive down, invade, keep coming, settle or stay)
Prov. 26:2 (Message) You have as little to fear from an undeserved curse as from the dart of a wren or the swoop of a swallow.
I found this interesting as I was recently studying the two types of tribulation – one – caused by disobedience or rebellion, and the other, the happening that has no why – a mystery allowed by God. an undeserved curse.
Many times when a child is ill or dies, parents wonder what they might have done or not done – and the enemy is pleased to plant the thought that it occurred because of sin. Jesus’ answer – John 9:2 And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?” John 9:3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The death of a child has been and remains the greatest test/tribulation of my life. Is it a curse? Though it may feel like evil or misfortune from a curse (An appeal or prayer for evil or misfortune to befall someone or something. And b. Evil or misfortune that comes as if in response to such an appeal). That definition certainly does not define the death of a believer –
Ezek. 18:32 “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord GOD
Psa. 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD Is the death of His godly ones.
So even an unexplainable death is a part of life that we must get through “in order that the works of God might be displayed.” The most difficult thing to absorb, that God allowed it. Perhaps I am just beginning to understand Christ’s death and the hope of resurrection. Faith, to that point had been my anchor, and I felt uprooted and unsettled, so I understand the hectic nature of the swallow.
Like the double description of its flight pattern –
Flitting – from nud [626c]; a prim. root; to move to and fro, wander, flutter, show grief:—console(1), consoled(1), drive away(1), flee(2), grieve(1), grieving(1)
Flying from greek word (rwør;√d drowr, der-ore´; from an unused root (meaning to move rapidly); freedom; hence, spontaneity of outflow, and so clear:—liberty, pure.) swift
This revealed the swallow, flittering – unable to settle down (like grief response) and also flying rapidly with freedom (not bound).
Combining this information the swallow teaches us that: Grieving can be unsettling, flitting from emotion to emotion, but untethered. Free to make the choice to live and to grieve boldly. Interestingly Greek lore considered the swallow sacred to the grieving mother – and thought to carry the soul of their departed child.
Once they become parents, the people-friendly birds become aggressive – or appear to be aggressive. On one hand swallows will swoop at the people they were friendly with the day before their eggs hatched. When the people put their arm out in front of their face, marking their boundaries, the birds fly up to and away from them, never actually touching the person. On the other hand swallows willingly risk their lives to swoop at Hawks or other animals much larger than themselves that threaten their young. And when a pair of swallows initiates this behavior, neighboring swallows are likely to join in – sometimes an entire flock – and the communal effort often succeeds in driving the predator away. Sounds like the church family doesn’t it! Noticing you have begun a battle because you are swooping at the enemy (in prayer, in action) not even having to ask, your brothers and sisters join in the battle. They are close enough to notice the defensive stance, and ready to join in as well as call in support.
Set boundaries and be sensitive to others’ boundaries.
Be defensive with threatening demeanor.
Make your message clear.
Welcome and accept support.
Yep. I am learning from the swallows.
The oldest common symbolism of swallows was with sailors:
- Sailors got tattoos of swallows – one as they set out on their journey (and to carry their souls to heaven should they not return) and a second swallow tattoo on return indicating a successful journey
- Seeing swallows was a sign that their travels were nearing an end – because these birds never travel far out to sea, their sighting meant that land was near – again a successful journey will soon be completed.
Ah yes. I live and grieve like the swallow – not wanting to be still – unable to be still. I recently read the most accurate description in Jane of Lantern Hill – It seemed that as long as she kept moving her pain marched with her and she could bear it. If she were to stop, it would crush her.
The key word there is seemed. But the pain of life and grief are not only emotion or feelings. We need to confirm the foundation before we can build upon it.
- Macmillan, D.D. said swallows build their nests of clay from the ground, but compensates for the seeming degradation by attaching that nest to the home of man and the very altar of God. “ He concludes: “And so God has made our bodies of the dust of the earth, and closely connected our life with it. We must make our nest of clay. But while by our bodies we belong to one set of circumstances, we belong by our souls to another and higher. We are immortal guests dwelling within a transient house of clay that must one day crumble and fall and be resolved into the elements out of which it was built.
but reality and foundation so I also learn from the swallow’s nest.
So, my friend, your set of swallows for my ears remind me of healing after losing a child. Having courage to travel light – not making decisions on the circumstances or the emotions, but remembering how the swallow builds – slowly, patiently and cautiously – we must go through the process, not forcing a ‘premature’ healing or an impatient settling for less in our desire to speed through the building process lest the final structure is weak and unstable.
Like the swallow building its cup-shaped nest, I need to rebuild the foundation of my faith with steady, wise, orderly progression (allowing God to fill each stage) instead of constantly longing for what belongs to the next one.
Patient is so not me. My nature is now. But patience IS a description of the creator of the swallow – and of me in the sense that I am created in His likeness. There is no need to rush this grieving process. To strain and claim the next step when I am not secure on the one below. It is okay to build my resting place leaning into security and returning regularly to my first love – the place I’ve been before – the place my heart knows where I will find comfort and healing.
And it is not only ok, but should be in my nature to humbly welcome the others in the journey.