As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Gentle ripples on the lake reflect the lush green treeline and clear blue sky. The mid-morning sun reaches around the cabin behind me, slowly inching its way onto the deck and forcing me to slide my chair bit by bit into the disappearing shade.
There is hardly any breeze, and it seems it will be another hot and sunny day at the cabin in north central Minnesota. I hear muffled voices from the cabin next door, birds chirping, and then—my favorite—the call of the loon.
The more time I’ve spent at this “up north” spot, the more intrigued I’ve become with loons. I’ve witnessed them up close from my kayak as they fly overhead or “penguin dance” on the water in front of me. The creativity of our creator is evident through the intricate designs, astounding colors, humorous behaviors, and melodic calls of the creatures that surround us. Even more surprising is the hidden functionality of these traits. The loon is a perfect example of God’s creative touch and careful design.
While I love their black and white plumage and am amazed at their underwater skills, I am most intrigued by their calls. The call of the loon can sound happy and spirited or mournful and longing. Researchers have discovered four distinct calls made by the Common Loon—the hoot, tremolo, yodel, and wail. Besides each call having a distinct sound, they also have a defined purpose.
If we use our imagination, it’s possible to see loon calls as symbols of our calls to and from God. The more I explore them, the more similarities I see.
When a loon hoots, it makes a soft, short chirping sound, which serves as a connection with other loons in the area. A parent will use the hoot to make contact with a chick, or mates will use it to say “hello” to each other.
The hoot reminds me of the brief prayers we offer up to God throughout the day. By doing so, we stay connected and in tune with his presence. He makes himself known to us through his Word and through his creation (like the lake and the loons have done for me). Besides staying in touch with God, the hoot reminds us to connect with other Christians, regularly encouraging one another in the faith.
The tremolo, which is often described as happy (or loony) laughter, is actually a call of distress. Loons use the tremolo when they sense danger approaching, such as a predator eagle or a person in a kayak who’s simply trying to get a stunning, close-up photo (who, me?). The tremolo is a cry for help or protection when a loon feels threatened, or a warning to young ones to head for the nest.
Doesn’t this remind you of how we cry out to God in our struggles? Our sense of security disappears when we lose a job, have a health crisis, or experience the death of a loved one. Waves of fear and instability can wash over us after an accident, during a pandemic, or when sending our children off into the world. In difficult times, prayer is often our first line of defense.
In the Bible, God gives us one example after another of his people calling out to him. Think of Job, the Psalmist, and even Jesus, who cried out to God for help. God wants us to bring our cares to him; to look to him for aid and protection.
Recently, while my husband and I paddled our kayaks near the shore, we came upon two loons. Rather than dive under the water and swim away from us, they treated us to a tremolo concert. First one would call, then the second, then back to the other, and so on like a perfectly timed duet. Like the loons, God also gives us each other—our friends, families, and fellow believers—to support us in times of distress.
The yodel is specific to the male loon and is a territorial call. It’s used when the bird feels threatened and is often heard along with loon dances, like the penguin dance I mentioned above. It also signals to other loons that they are invading his space. Each loon’s yodel is distinct from the others but, interestingly, researchers discovered when a male loon moves to a new setting, his distinct call changes shape, with different pitches and durations of sounds.
Many of us—male and female alike—stake our territory on issues we want to guard. We feel threatened by conflicting ideas and stubbornly state our views without listening to others in a loving, Christ-like way. If, like the loons, we could step into new surroundings, i.e. see issues from a different point of view, we may start singing a slightly different tune. If we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, we might open our minds and take a new stance on issues we thought we had to protect and defend. In doing so, we may realize the topics we disagree on are not as black and white as the loon’s feathers.
My favorite of all loon calls is the mournful wail, often heard in the evening, late at night, or in the early morning. Especially when the lake is calm, the two- or three-note call reverberates through my spirit and stirs me to remember who I am. The wail, in “loon-speak,” means “Where are you?” as the loon calls out to its mate or chicks. The response, a slightly different two- or three-note wail, is the reply, saying “Here I am.”
That response rings a bell as I recall the many Sunday school lessons and Bible stories I encountered growing up. We hear the words “Here I am” in response to God’s call by six characters in the Bible: Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, Isaiah, and Ananias (who helped Paul after his conversion). In every instance, God was asking more than the person’s location when he asked, “Where are you?” He was asking them to carry out a mission—to answer a “call.” Each had an important role to play in God’s story of salvation.
Lately, when I hear the loon’s wail, I stop and wonder if God is asking, “Where are you?” And if so, I hope I’m ready to say “Here I am. I’m available. I’m ready and willing, Lord, to play my role in your story and your kingdom.”
As the new church and school year kick off, many churches are seeking volunteers they depend on to serve as elders, deacons, church school teachers, children’s worship leaders, nursery attendants, coffee-servers, team/committee members, hospitality and outreach people, musicians, audio/visual technicians…the list goes on. Yet every year it seems members’ lives become busier and fuller, and finding people to serve becomes more difficult.
The loons remind us that God’s call is the most important one in our lives. Whenever he asks “Where are you?” we need to listen. The church will be blessed when we discern our gifts, adjust our time commitments, and confidently step forward to play our part in the story of salvation. In responding “Here I am,” we will fulfill our purpose in God’s design.
God created humans, like the loons, with amazing capabilities. He also gave us ways to communicate with him and others. We can “hoot”—speak to God in prayer and hear him respond to us in his Word and creation. Our “tremolo” is our cry for help in distress and protection from danger, often sung in chorus with the family of God nearby. Though our “yodel” might put walls between ourselves and others, if we ask him, the Holy Spirit will help us listen in love, softening our hearts, and changing our stance. Finally, if we listen closely, we might hear God’s “wail” asking, “Where are you?” Like the heroes of the Bible and the call of the loon, I hope we will respond with our own wail, saying “Here I am!”