IN OTHER IMAGES: PART 1: THE BIRDS

And perhaps just as God made man in his own image and likeness, so also did he make the remaining creatures after certain other heavenly images as a likeness. – Origen

God said, "…I command birds to fly above the earth." So God made…every kind of bird. God looked at what he had done, and it was good. Then he gave the living creatures his blessing – he told…the birds to increase everywhere on earth. Evening came, then morning – that was the fifth day. – Genesis 1:20-23


And so God looked down on the world he had created, and he said, "The land, the water, and the plants bring very good beauty to the surface, and the heavens also are beautiful. But a world without animate forms of life is just not a world worth living in. So I shall create the animals, creatures with lesser intelligence than my angels and I, but with an unbreakable connection to the natural order of the earth. And I shall start with creatures that will fly in the heavens and possess the sky. They shall take on forms that will accommodate their need to fly, appendages called wings, a tail, and a lightweight skeleton, to take off the ground and remain off of it as long as they like, and they shall also have legs and feet with strong claws for landing, as well as for walking and perching. And they shall be called…the birds!"

So God looked down on the earth and all its foundations of grass, trees, stones, mountains, valleys, and hills. "First, I must create a creature that will demonstrate how the birds will originate. I command a species to come to life with feathers to insulate its body, clawed feet, and a beak-like jaw with teeth, and it will be 'the ancient wing,' or, what my children of the future will call it, the 'Archaeopteryx.'"

And so it was. On the land that would come to be known as Europe, a large bird came to life in the trees. It was part reptilian in appearance, with scales under its feathers, and a toothed beak, with a squawk and a cry in its throat. Its big feet could grasp the ground or a tree branch like crooked hands. Its wingspan went to 1.5 meters long. And its feathered plumage was a gorgeous mix of blue and orange.

God looked at this creature, and said, "This is good. This creature is unique in every way, and I am glad I created it. But some of its physical traits may be more fitting for the creeping things I intend to create tomorrow. These birds must stand out as wholly unique if they are to rule the skies. More ancient wings, like and yet unlike this, shall be created, but for the rest of my birds, they must possess only feathers, not scales, hollow skeletons, claws, wings and a tail, and a beak without teeth. Birds must be different from all other creatures I intend to create."

God gazed out over the sea. "Soon I will create creatures that swim in the sea, but first, I must make birds that can call the sea their home, birds that will live there, and birds that will migrate across it during the changing seasons." He looked at the vast expanse and made his first choice. "I command seabirds with long wingspans, perfect flight endurance, and the ability to relax in flight, to fly over the oceans, to dominate the sky above the great waters." And so it was. God created albatrosses with mighty flight endurance, shearwaters, fulmars and petrels with very long wingspans, and tropicbirds with sharply pointed bodies. Next, he made pelicans, to tame the soon-to-come fish along the shorelines, man-o-war birds, and cormorants. As a special touch, he created gulls and terns, because he wanted graceful birds that would live at both shore and sea, and whose mew, kip, and gay laughter would awaken a deep longing for the ocean and all its wonders.

"Next," said God, "Let us make birds that will live at sea, but will live on the shores more than on the open ocean." So with his word, he made sandpipers, plovers, herons, egrets, yellowlegs', phalaropes, woodcocks, and snipes, all with the intention of adding life to the edges of water, life that would live in communion with some of the creeping things to be created later. In addition, near the poles, he created the puffins, other alcids, and the flightless penguins, to bring humor to the cold seas of the corners of the earth.

"And now," said God, "Let us make birds that will grace the inland fresh water with their beauty, quacking ducks that waddle and make us laugh, geese that honk and rule the lake skies, and black and white swans, with the purest, and rarest, beauty to be seen on drinkable water." And it was so. God made the ducks, the geese, and the swans according to their kinds. He also made the loons and the grebes.

Having brought much liveliness to the skies above the seas and lakes, God now set about examining the dry land. "There must be majestic birds that will fly over the ground and reflect the majesty of my eternal kingdom upon my other creations. They must look stern, fly with air-tearing speed, and soar high enough in the sky to bring much-deserved awe to those who watch them." And God made the raptors. First, he created the almighty eagles, the kings of all birds, who would later figure in the gospel of God's only Son, Jesus, as an evangelist. As a partner to the eagles, God also made the hawks, of only slightly less majesty, and then he created the kites, the air-stripping falcons and kestrels, the owls that would keep watch during the night, and the fish-loving osprey. Last of the raptors, he created the vultures, strong scavengers that would clean up the messes other animals made with their food, and he gave them all bald heads so they could stay clean while feeding.

And God said, "I can see that my creations will want attractive birds to play games with and find other creative uses for, in the present as well as in the future, so I will now create the gamebirds." And so it was. God made handsome brown birds like the quails, the pheasants, the grouse, the white ptarmigans, the vain but courageous turkeys, and the simplest and tamest of all, the chickens.

And God reflected on everything he had done, and it was good. But then he mused, "I wish to have birds that will reflect the gentle and righteous way of my Holy Spirit. So I will create pigeons to enliven my children's communities, and doves to teach them how to be gentle as well as subtle with their enemies." And so it was. God created pigeons, and he created doves, wild and domestic he created them, and commanded them to wait for the coming of his special children created in his own image, for they had much to teach the man and woman about how to treat those all around them. Then he also said, "Perhaps I can add some more color to the world as well with these creatures, and it is time I started decorating the forests. I will create canaries and parrots with bright and beautiful plumage, and some will be personal companions of men and women at home and abroad. Others will grace the jungles with their presence." So God created the canary and the parrot, too. He made cuckoos and roadrunners, too, to add even more flavor to his creation. He even made more comical-looking birds out of nighthawks, swifts, and whip-poor-wills, with big throats to suck in their food.

And God reflected yet again, and said, "I must make even more uniqueness in my airborne creations. I command the existence of hummingbirds, tiny birds that feed on nectar from flowers and can beat their wings faster than any other bird, and of kingfishers, to keep further company with my lakes and swamps and their fish residents I am soon going to create. Trees should be put to utilitarian use as well as beauty and food, so I will create woodpeckers, to drill their homes into the trunks of trees and find their food there, too. And like the penguins I created earlier, there must be some birds that do not have the ability to fly, but are fast and strong runners, have the remains of wings, and are obviously shaped like a bird."

And so it was. God made hummingbirds, tiny, cute little birds with lovely colors on their feathers and very long, thin beaks, and kingfishers with feathered crests on their heads and beaks like spears. Soon woodpeckers were jackhammering into the bark of trees all over the world, making their first homes for themselves. As an added touch, God even made some more bizarre looking birds like the hoopoe, in what would be called the Garden of Eden. And in various warm, dry locations on the planet, God made the flightless ratites, the ostrich, the emu, the cassowary, the rhea, the kiwi, the moa, and numerous more. Now even the ground was decorated with God's wondrous splendor of feathered friends.

But it still wasn't complete in God's eyes. He thought about it and said, "There must be small, diverse perching birds that are of all different kinds there are to be thought of. And they all must be able to cling to a branch, twig, or other high place with their claws like the perching birds they are. Most of all, in addition to a diverse number of colorful feathers, they must be able to sing songs of praise to their Creator, so I will always know that my birds appreciate me. Come, let us make so many little birds that perch and dominate the bird kingdom more than any other single family of birds."

And so it was done. By God's command, hundreds of different kinds of passerines, or perching birds, came forth and began to find footholds in the trees and other locations, and displayed their plumage and sang their beautiful songs in all their glory.

Kingbirds perched on tiny branches. Swallows swooped down with forked tails. Larks sang to their heart's desire. Nuthatches, creepers, chickadees and titmice flicked from tree to tree. God also made birds with unusually high intelligence in the all-black crows and ravens, birds that would provide dark news in the future, and their relatives, the magpies and jays. Little kinglets and wrens, especially the lovely fairy wren, hopped about on their footholds. Thrushes, robins, and bluebirds expressed bold happiness in the sunshine.

Mockingbirds, catbirds, and nightingales sang some of the loveliest songs of all. Hearing their melodies and watching their peaceful passivity, he knew one day it would come true that one of his children would consider it a sin to kill a mockingbird.

Starlings and vireos dazzled the eye. So did brightly colored tanagers, buntings, and cardinals. The blackbirds and grackles were almost as dark as the crows and ravens. Orioles and goldfinches looked like they carried the light of the sun in their feathers. Finches adapted well to colder parts of the earth.

So many birds had been made, and it was almost complete. Then God said, "I know of two kinds of birds that must outnumber all others in the number of their kinds. The world needs birds that can make a bird watcher's day more interesting by their similar songs and diverse plumage, and even more so, it needs birds that in later ages will be looked down on as lowly due to their smallness and their simplicity. So to finish this job, let us make such birds right now."

And so God made the warblers, each according to their kinds, each with its own unique song, and each with its own unique feather colors. He made so many warblers that they covered much of the earth. He also made the humble sparrows, each according to its kind. There were more sparrows than even the Angels could count soon enough. As God breathed life into them, the sparrows looked up and saw their Creator looking down at them, and were afraid. But God said, "Fear not! You are among the most blessed of all birds. I will always look after you as much as the other birds, and while other, greater creations will be worth more than even you, take comfort in representing my compassion for even the lowliest life forms."

Then the sparrows bowed their heads and bodies and spread their wings, a posture of submission to God. Noticing this, all the other birds God had created adopted the same posture, and offered their thanks to the Almighty.

"There is one last step to this stage of animal creation," said God, "To supplement the birds of the sky, let us create some more creatures that are not birds, but do have the remarkable ability to fly, just like them." And so it was. God created millions of tiny, winged insects, each according to its own kind. Bees, wasps, flies, beautiful butterflies and moths whose lovely wings and colors rivaled that of the birds, aphids, fireflies, winged ants, and so many others, he created them all. He also made hairy bats with dark, leathery wings to traverse the night with the owls, and he made reptilian pterosaurs inspired by the Archaeopteryx and its cousins to rule the skies alongside the birds, too.

And God said, "Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth with your kinds and increase everywhere in the heavens and on the earth!"

Then God looked at everything he had done, and it was very good. But it still was not finished. He had more work to do before the day was finished.

Creating the fish and other creatures of the water…


TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 2: THE FISH