Walk the trails at Pontiac Lake State Park and you will climb up ridges to some of the most spectacular views in southern Michigan. You have to pinch yourself as a reminder you are in a county of 1.3 million people—one of the highest population densities in the nation. Yet even here there is wilderness to be found. In a snow less winter the trees are black silhouttes against pewter skies. The ground cover is 40 shades of brown. The woods are quiet, not even so much as a chickadee. There in a distant lone oak on the shoreline of a marshy pond, I spied it—a brown and cream raptor showing off a yard-long wingspan. The stubby head and chunky body gave away the distinct form of a barn owl. She flew silently into the forest on the other side and disappeared like a ghost.
Barn owls are one of the most successful species of birds God created. They are native to and thrive on every continent save Antarctica. This is probably because their favorite food is the venerable mouse and its allies. Wherever mice thrive, so does the barn owl. It's a real treat to see one in the day as in North America they are almost completely nocturnal. Perhaps the one I saw had become confused by these gray winter days so far removed from sun.
The barn owl is unique in other ways. It does not hoot but instead can shriek the hair right off the back of your neck. These owls demonstrate incredible faithfulness as they mate monogamously for life. What these raptors do by instinct the Lord planned equally for us to do by choice. But most interestingly, the average barn owl has three daytime roosting sites. Usually these are tree cavities, crevices in a cliff side or holes in abandoned buildings. In these roosts the big birds will hide out until the night's hunt begins. They are the birds of three places.
It strikes me that this too is something the Lord planned for humans to do by choice: to have three places. For most people home is one place. Work is a second place but what is the third? Life is off balance without a third place. A stool needs at least three legs to stand and every human being needs at least three places for a healthy life.
I have a suggestion for your third place: the house of the Lord! “I was glad,” sang the Psalmist, “when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the LORD!'” (Ps 122:1). For much of his ministry, Jesus was a man of three places. During the day he walked and taught in the fields and along the lake shore. In the evenings he slept at the home of Peter's mother in Capernaum. But on the Sabbath day, he was to be found in the synagogues. Praising and praying to God in the liturgy and reading from the scriptures. Owls have long been ciphers for wisdom. Jesus is wisdom. They both are creatures of three places, not just two. Have you found your place in the house of God? Are you in regular worship or a Bible Study or a prayer group or a youth ministry? If things seem unstable or out of kilter in your life, it may be because you bounce back and forth between only two places and your soul longs for a third roost: the gathered people of God. You can learn a lot from a bird. See you in church.
Connect, Grow, Serve,
Pastor Tom Anderson