What an Old Tom Turkey Taught Me About Biblical Spirituality

For most pastors and church staffs, the week after Easter Sunday is like a big exhale and collapse on the couch kind of week.  It is a bit more than that for those of us who define the start of spring not by the cycles of the sun and moon but by the sounds of barred owl calls and spring turkeys gobbling from their roost.

It was an incredible Easter worship that we celebrated.  Definitely in my top five and maybe even the number 1 for me.  The thing about Sundays, my friend and fellow pastor, Tommy Willingham reminded me a number of years, is that after Sunday comes another Sunday, and another, and another.  Somewhere in there, clergy have to take Sabbath rest.  I found some of that rest time on April 1.

I have permission to hunt on some private land not far from my home.  I got home a little after 5pm, donned my camo, checked my calls, got my shotgun and headed out for what I thought would likely be an hour or so taking a walk in the woods listening for a non-existent gobbler nearby.

It was 5:30 when I began my walk, crawling under the barbed wire fence and walking up to the highest ridge.  Taking my time, I sent a few gently yelps and clucks out to let any turkeys know a "hen" was in the area.  No one picked up on my advances.  So about ten till six, I did something I rarely do.  I set up a turkey hen decoy on the ridge, found a nice pine tree and I sat down.  I played a game on my phone.  I checked e-mail.  I remembered my prayer beads in my vest and began to pray.

Then I waited.

I’ll admit I don’t wait well.  I get antsy, bored, and anxious.  I also know that I need those feelings and turkey hunting is a sport able to teach patience more than most.  It sure seemed like a lot more time had gone by but right around 6pm, I gobble sounded off right in front of me.  Game on.  I paused a moment and responded with a soft cut and purr from my call.  Nothing.

So I waited.

Five minutes later, the gobbling came from my right.  I turned my head slightly to see that old turkey had covered about 100 yards in five minutes and was anxious to get a glimpse of the hen he had been hearing.  I gave him another cluck and purr and watched his head perk up.  He began putting to hear from that hen.  Then he got a glimpse of the decoy moving in the wind.

He lowered his head down and came in on a string to that decoy.  When the tom was about 15 yards from my pine tree, I brought the hunt to an end.  In reality, my time with this bird was far from over.  I got him back home, took measurements and took to work cleaning him.  I think I'm one of the few who treasure this part of every hunt because it is a time for me to give thanks to God for the blessing of food for my family and the joy of being part of God’s creation.  I give thanks for the bird, for the life and for the hunt.  In these moments after a successful hunt, I am reminded of my own mortality, those sacred words we as clergy say on Ash Wednesday and at funerals: “Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.”

Why do I share this story?  In part, I have come to see and experience the camaraderie in hunt stories.  Sportsmen and sportswomen have a shared language and find meaning and life in the stories.  I have sat with folks in hospital rooms, at home or over a cup of coffee, who had no life in them but who caught spark when the stories of days in the woods came up.  It was people sharing their lives that have help me to come to hold stories, psalms and allegories in a much higher regard than I used to do.  In his article, “To Taste With Heart,” Dr. Mark Burrows writes about this when he observes, “Allegorical reading with its creative interest in possibility, finds its grounding in a spirituality of movement and change.  But this occurs only for readers who are willing to stay put, to remain at the still point within the text... (176, Burrows).”

In our rush toward advancements and achievements, human beings speed by the stories and poems around us.  In our commitment to quiet times with God, we become more interested in checking off our to do list.  In our hurry to be right, we fail to read and live what is written.  In fact, we fail to live at all.  The root of allegories and poetry in the Scriptures are the revelations of human beings who became still; who waited.  The reading and study of Scripture is more than an intellectual experience for it is intended to be spiritually transforming.  A Biblical spirituality needs a patient reading, reflection on a life lived and time in the presence of God.

On a Monday afternoon, I took time to be at rest.  I stopped my hurrying and chose to sit and wait.  I need to wait more.  I need to sit more often.  That old turkey reminded me once again what can be discovered and the stories that are written when we stop and wait in the presence of God.

Psalm 40:1-3 GW  For the choir director; a psalm by David. I waited patiently for the LORD. He turned to me and heard my cry for help.  (2)  He pulled me out of a horrible pit, out of the mud and clay. He set my feet on a rock and made my steps secure.  (3)  He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see this and worship. They will trust the LORD.

Works Cited
Burrows, Mark. "To Taste with Heart," Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology.  April 2002.


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