Posted: 2/16/18 at 8:00am. Column by Ed Jordan.
Driving in my car last week, I saw a sight I hadn’t seen for quite a while. It was a large cloud of small, dark birds flying in an undulating cloud formation. I had seen this phenomenon before, but this time I couldn’t stop to watch. The movement of these birds is amazing, and the patterns shift and pulse as though they are alive—like a giant dance in the sky.
This phenomenon is called murmuration, and is done by European Starlings, as thousands of birds form a huge cloud-like group. The starling cloud reshapes itself, changing direction and density quickly, yet moves in perfect synchronization. The event is a thing of mystery and beauty. See it for yourself here.
This beautiful sky dance raises many questions. Why do these birds do this? To find an answer I looked into the subject, and I used the results in writing this column. One thing researchers have noticed is that there always seems to be a predator in the area when this phenomenon occurs, and that predator is usually a falcon. Thus the birds flying as a murmuration (a flock of starlings) is postulated to be a security precaution and used to minimize the risk of any one individual being attacked.
It is also interesting to me that at times the murmuration appears to take the shape of what looks like a gigantic bird with outstretched wings. It does not consistently appear in that shape, but to me there are times when the murmuration looks like a huge flying bird. Perhaps the sight of such a gigantic and unpredictable image plays a role in frightening away falcons. Regardless, the principle of strength in numbers seems to be what is at play here.
The same principle is generally true in the lives of humans as well, including groups of Christians. Throughout history, humans have instinctively known that there is strength in numbers. Two people have a better chance of overpowering an attacker than one person alone.
God created the church so that we as Christians could become a giant representation of Jesus on Earth. In 1 Corinthians 12, the church—Christians gathered together—are described as the body of Christ. Christians standing alone are often not even noticed, but when we join together and move under God’s direction, Christians become an awesome movement in carrying out God’s will on Earth!
Christians are encouraged in the Bible to stay connected to the church (group), as delineated in Hebrews 10:24–25 (NLT): “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” As Christians we can all accomplish bigger and better things when we work together than we can ever accomplish alone.
Have you ever tried to move a large piece of furniture yourself? It’s a struggle. But if four people each lift a corner, it becomes a doable task. When we join together and move in the same direction in carrying out the same objective, we can accomplish much more than we can when we are isolated and alone.
Scientists have used computers to analyze videos of murmurations, trying to discover how the starlings can all stay in sync with one another. They have not discovered specifically how it’s done, but they have discovered that seven seems to be the optimal number of birds that move or shift direction together. Since some of those seven are also parts of numerous other groups of seven in close proximity, the shift of seven occurs almost simultaneously throughout the entire system, flock, or murmuration. Often in the ministry of churches, larger tasks are carried out by small groups who are actively connected to the larger group.
What an amazing thing God has created in the dance of the starlings. I hope that the next time you see a murmuration of starlings, your mind will think of the church. What could God accomplish through a church, if all the members were taking part in the movement? Somehow many today have bought into the misnomer that God’s idea for Christians is to dance alone.
What if we Christians, who make up the church of God, were all tuned into God’s voice and together moved in sync with his instructions and design? What could our phenomenal God accomplish through us? What a dance that would be! Wanna dance?