At first glance it looked like a giant smudge on the new glass of the door to our deck. Moving in to investigate more closely I realized it was something else entirely. A large bird of some sort, perhaps a mourning dove, had apparently been startled while pecking at dropped birdseed on the wooden boards under the bird feeder, and had flown smack into the glass in its haste to get away. Amazingly, the bird’s image was left behind in intricate detail in the dust on the door.
Birds fly into that window all the time, usually leaving just a feather or two stuck to the glass in their wake. The lucky ones bounce off and sit gathering their wits about them for a few minutes before eventually taking off again in a safer direction. Others succumb to broken necks or the damage to their battered bodies in just a matter of minutes, leaving me to dispose of them before the dogs have a field day with their feather remains.
Never before had I seen anything like this. From wingtip to outspread wingtip the bird’s likeness was pictured before me, down to the feathery plumage of its torso. The dawning morning light was just right to illuminate the sight against the remaining dark surroundings, and I quickly grabbed my camera in the hope of somehow capturing the picture before it became less visible as the day wore on.
Perhaps it registered with me so strongly because I know a lot of people whose life circumstances are similar to that bird’s experience. Eagerly taking off on some new venture, they have barely gotten off the ground when they’ve slammed into an invisible obstacle, falling back to sit stunned and shaken and wondering what on earth has happened to them. Many times their dreams succumb at that point to the blow they’ve received.
Surprisingly, I didn’t find a bird carcass on the deck boards that morning. Surely if it hit the glass with the force needed to leave the image it did, it could not have survived. But things are not always as they seem. Perhaps the purpose behind that dusty imprint was simply to remind me that a seemingly dead future can be resurrected, and that a promise can live beyond the grave.
God’s left such reminders before. The Shroud of Turin is one such example, a piece of cloth said to have been wrapped around Jesus’ body at His burial, bearing in blood the features of the crucified Savior. Yet it was set aside at His rising, His abandoned grave clothes all that was left in the tomb on that first Easter morning.
While there is much debate about the Shroud of Turin’s authenticity, there’s no disputing that Christ’s image was imprinted on the hearts of the disciples that were discussing the events surrounding His death as they trudged wearily to Emmaus. When Jesus suddenly appeared walking alongside them, disguising His true identity but discussing the events of the last few days and explaining their significance, those same hearts burned within them, helping them to eventually understand and believe, and infusing their lives with new hope.
God simply does same thing with us. He walks beside us in the midst of our distress, encouraging and explaining things to us, although often we don’t recognize His voice or the form in which He appears. As a new day dawns we are surprised to see an imprint of His presence left somewhere where we’d stumble across it, and suddenly we realize that He was with us in the darkness all along and hasn’t left us, as we supposed. Hope infused and hearts beating wildly within us, we grab our resurrected vision and rush as the two disciples did to tell somebody else of what we’ve just experienced. Not only is the gospel thus spread, but our expectancy rises from the dead, and our dreams suddenly take flight once more.
“On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces…”
(Isaiah 25:8 NIV)