There is an old (and very well known) tale told about a certain man who went through the woods seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home and put it among the hens and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken food to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds.
Five years later, a naturalist came to see him and, after passing through the garden, said ‘That bird is an Eagle, not a chicken.’
‘Yes’ said the owner, ‘but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle, it is a chicken, even though it measures fifteen feet from tip to tip of its wings.’
‘No,’ said the naturalist, ‘it is an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle, and I will help it soar high up in to the heavens.’
‘No,’ said the owner. ‘ it is a chicken and will never fly.’
They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the eagle, held it up and said with great intensity. ‘Eagle you are an eagle; you belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth your wings and fly.’
The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the hens eating their food, and down he jumped.
The owner said; ‘I told you it was a chicken.’
‘No,’ said the naturalist, ‘it is an eagle. Give it another chance tomorrow. ‘
So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said: ‘Eagle, you are an eagle; stretch forth your wings and fly.’ But again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed with them.
Again the owner said: ‘I told you it was a chicken.’
‘No,’ asserted the naturalist, ‘it is an eagle, and it has the heart of an eagle; only give it one more chance, and I will make it fly tomorrow.’
The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city and away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top to the mountain with gold, and every crag was glistening in the joy of the beautiful morning.
He picked up the eagle and said to it: ‘Eagle, you are an eagle; you belong to the sky and not to the earth; stretch forth your wings and fly.’
The eagle looked around and trembled as if new life were coming to it. But it did not fly.
The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher and higher and never returned.
Though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken, it was an eagle.
Society has a way dehumanising us. Of causing us to fail to see our worth before God. Of making us little more than objects to whom advertisers make their pitch, and about whom governments create statistics and form policies to keep everything safe and predictable.
And religion without vision also has this effect reducing us to the status of law keepers – or lawbreakers, classifying us according to what we believe or do not believe. And categorising us according to the way in which we conform or do not conform to the expectations of the church or denomination in which we happen to find ourselves.
It is easy to lose track of who we are – and whose we are – and to slip into the old ways – the way of the law and it’s regulations; the way of trying to please God by adhering to a code that measures our worth by what we do and our value by what we refrain from doing.
It is easy to forget that we are eagles and that we are meant to fly in the highest heavens.