My husband and I spent a few days in Idaho at a church convention. There were 250 people attempting to practice social distancing and compliance with masks. Even though I know God is always present, I need proof when situations are stressful.
He always shows up.
There is a wide median dividing the highway lanes that leads to the conference center. Positioned about a block apart are two very large metal sculptures. Each is a single, imposing, beautifully-detailed feather.
A few years ago I read an article that was written by a feather biologist. Here’s what I learned.
Every feather is made by a follicle that is vaguely similar to our hair follicles. The difference is that hair follicles spin in the exact same algorithm for their entire life. Feather follicles create the entire feather, from the tip all the way back to the quill. The math and materials change as the feather emerges.
The whole plan for the complete feather is contained in that one follicle. When a feather is separated from the bird’s body for any reason, the follicle knows that it must start over again and make a new feather. (If the same was true for humans, no one would ever bald.) So, each follicle makes a particular kind of feather, head or breast or wing or thick fluff for warmth.
Each feather on every bird in the world is made of the same essential materials. The follicles are mapped onto the bird’s body in a series of gradients that transition according to the feather’s use, size, shape, and color. Small birds have about 1500 feathers. Large birds can have as many as 25,000.
Each one is perfectly designed for its job description. Because no two follicles are exactly the same, no two feathers on a bird’s body are ever the same.
Feathers are to birds what fingerprints are to humans.
On the fifth day of creation, as documented in Genesis 1:20, God said, “…let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” Then He created “the great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind.” In that instant, God instilled the genetic codes that would forever determine each bird’s characteristics.
Nothing has changed since birds became birds. Every feather is a miracle, a tiny unique part of the natural world, but filled with all the beauty, richness, and mystery of creation.
Birds are intricately woven into scripture. God told Job that the birds of the air could teach him. (Job 12:7) He tells the psalmist, Asaph that He intimately knows “all the birds of the mountains.” (Psalm 50:11) In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon admits that there are three things too wonderful for him, and four that he didn’t understand. The way of an eagle was the first.
And in the ultimate tribute to birds, Jesus explained, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matt 10:29-31)
The feather sculptures comforted me.
I see the pre-election divisiveness, fear generated by a worldwide pandemic, and racial tension. But feathers remind me that God is actively present in the life of every living being. He sees us. And He has a plan.
The same God that intimately knows each feather is with us today.
Sylvia Peterson is a former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and an author. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.