A Dream of a Feather

I’m sure I dream like most people, but I seldom remember a dream at all, much less in  detail or with clarity. I have to note the dream when it happens.

In this dream, I was at a big church that reminded me of the General Convention that was held here in 1991.  Everybody and everything were a-buzz preparing. There was more, but all I recall now is that a single eagle feather was to be carried in the procession.

The feather came from a bird taken illegally by a caucasian man on Native American land. The man had intended to use the feather as the centerpiece for a banquet. The poor bird had been nailed to a tree. Once the bird was discovered, it was decided that a single feather  would be given to the Native Americans in charge of the safeguarding the nature represented by the feather, to be used for purification and rededication of the people.

Like with most dreams, I have no clue where this story comes from. Did I make it up? Was it something I had heard elsewhere? I do not know, but it was vivid and got me thinking.

The most obvious thought the parallel between something precious the man took and despoiled with something that had been borne out repeatedly over the past centuries where the two cultures have collided. Land, tradition, language, symbolism, way of life — those things have been lost to the Native Americans to whom they belonged and for what?  Greed and the overbearing sense of entitlement. The Native Americans in the US weren’t the only ones who were victims of such colonialism, imperialism, even domination from the outside, conquerors from a completely different world who sought to make new lands and peoples over in their own image. When human beings usurp the powers of God, even on the limited scale of which humankind is capable, the results are not usually good – or beneficial (or even merciful).

The bird seemed to me to be a symbol of nature at its most beautiful when in its ultimate freedom as it was intended to be. As for being nailed to a tree, in my dream, I saw the eagle with wings outstretched, pierced through the heart with a large nail, like a crucifixion of sorts. Perhaps that is why one of its feathers was brought to the opening Eucharist of convention, to bear witness to the death of the bird to which it had belonged. In addition, it represented a call to repentance the people who had not only committed this murder and so many others and who had damaged and destroyed all that nature represented — the order, the beauty, the very cycles by which nature moves. Someone sacrificed a beautiful creature of God and nature to satisfy a need for power and a desire to be like God, whether or not they admitted it. 

Dreams can be alarming, but this one – well, it had so many levels. There was dismay about the bird, certainly. Still, there was also a sense of something else, a sense of possibility, maybe. Or perhaps it was a sense of flickering hope that there could be a return to Tikkun Olam, a healing of the world.

What would it take for that to happen, replanting forests, eliminating pollution and greed, caring for one another as brothers and sisters rather than potential (and imaginary) enemies? 

I can still visualize that beautiful bird, covered in blood, nailed to a tree with its wings outstretched, as clearly as I can see Jesus on the cross. I see the eagle as representative of peoples and cultures who treat nature with respect and only seek to live in harmony with the land and with each other. I wonder – will the land and the people ever be cleansed, purified, and redeemed? That was part of Jesus’s message to us. 

When are we going to pay attention and do something about it? 

Image: Bald Eagle, wings and tail feathers, Author Peter K Burian (2017). Found at Wikimedia Commons. 

Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.

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