The Hoo! Hoo! Hoo-Hoo! of a great horned owl floats across the soft gurgles of the Holly River into my open window and reminds me of my youth. Some evenings when the family sat on the porch Dad would call out into the blackness and an owl would respond, and they would have a little “talk”. We even adopted the call as our long distance communication. When one of us was out of sight and needed to check in, we'd give a loud Hoo! Hoo! Hoo-Hoo!” and the other person would echo it back. FYI: This only works in the country. If I started hooting loudly in the suburbs, someone would most likely complain and we'd get another letter.
There seems to be a universal affection for owls. People collect them, and large companies incorporate them in their logos. (My 22-year-old nephew sheepishly offered up the example of a certain restaurant chain named after an owl hoot, but then redeemed himself with Trip Advisor whose logo is an owl face.) The owl's popularity is largely due to its status of the unchallenged animal symbolizing wisdom.
Stick with me here but I'm going to throw down a radical idea. Might we consider the lowly snapping turtle as a more realistic symbol for the wise? Proverbs 9:10 says “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...” Much can be learned if we have realistic fear as a starting point. Once we were stopped in a traffic jam on a busy road and we all watched in dismay a woman who had gotten out of her car and was attempting to move a large snapping turtle. Her chosen method was to carry the beast between two flat pieces of slick cardboard like a bad sandwich. The unsuspecting woman didn't know the level of danger she was in. We've all been there, but once we know the danger, however, we can form a more effective strategy.
In the case of the snapping turtle, we need to know their necks can stretch back farther than you think, and their bite has been compared to that of a Bengal tiger (animalhype.com). Nobody in their right mind would carry a Bengal tiger between two pieces of cardboard! Like the Proverb says, “fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
Specifically it says, “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” A critic might ask why worship a God you're afraid of? But when we understand how a loving God has perfect judgement, and our sins and imperfections, when left uncovered with the redemptive blood of Jesus, end in death, well, that's the beginning of wisdom. It's easy to see the possibilities of loving and fearing something simultaneously in a healthy way. Fire is wonderful to warm us and to cook over, but as with the forest fires in the news recently, it is wise to fear its power. We love a cool breeze but are wise to respect tornado warnings. And water is life-giving but also deserves tremendous caution. Fear is the beginning of wisdom...
This past week I've been observing my great nephew play in the river at our farm. He steps in the muck at the edge without fear of leeches or snappers, sticks his hands under rocks to turn them over without fear of snakes, and swims in water over his head. We keep a watchful eye. After all, don't we always do everything we can to keep our loved ones safe? Sometimes that might mean alerting them to the dangers when it's no longer child's play.
They always told us that if a snapping turtle bites you, it won't let go until it thunders. This may or may not be true, but what we do know for certain is that fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and that's a truth we can latch onto and never let go of, even if it storms.
Janet Cowger- Fliegel