In her book, “Owl Moon,” Jane Yolen tells the story of a little girl and her father who trek out into the forest on a cold, winter night, hoping to catch a glimpse of a great horned owl.

Against the pitch black sky was a bright, shining full moon. The pair walked through the crunching snow as silently as possible, not saying a word to each other. As they ventured deeper into the woods, her father would stop periodically and, cupping his hands around his mouth, make a long series of owl calls — “Who, whoo, whooo, whoooooooooooo.” Each time there was silence, no response.

Father and daughter wove their way through the trees into the heart of the forest. The father called again and again along their frozen path. They would stop and listen carefully, hoping that the elusive great horned owl might answer. But, all was still. So, they moved on.

And, then it happened. The father called out through his cupped hands, “Whooooo, whooooo, who, who, who, whoooooo.” This time their hearts raced as the cold, dark night split with the echoed answer they had been waiting for, “Whoo, whoo, whoooooo, who.” It was a magnificent great horned owl.

Making no sound whatsoever on its powerful wings, the owl glided onto the branch just above their heads. The father shined his flashlight up at the majestic creature above them with its fierce eyes fixed on the man and little girl below. It was an incredible moment, when the animal world and the human world stood close together in a kind of ephemeral thin place. It was everything — still and mysterious and grand — that the young girl had hoped for and more.

The story ends with the little girl and her father returning home, delighted that they had fulfilled their quest. The final lines of “Owl Moon” are these from the little girl. “When you go owling, you don’t need words or warm or anything but hope. That’s what Pa says. The kind of hope that flies on silent wings under a shining Owl Moon.”

I wonder if you have ever felt like you were on a kind of quest, searching for something that you longed for, something that you were eager to find. But, it was elusive. You called and called but heard no answer. The only response was silence. You searched and searched but found nothing. You kept walking deeper into the woods on a frozen path, making your own way on a journey through fresh snow with no footprints before you to follow. It was freezing cold, and each step seemed heavier than the last. Your throat was sore from calling. Perhaps you wondered if turning back home without getting your answer or finding your treasure, giving up on your quest, and cutting your losses seemed — maybe, seems — like the prudent thing to do.

I am sure that the little girl and her father both felt the same way at different points along their journey. But, they kept going, imagining their encounter with a great horned owl. In spite of all the odds of such a meeting, they held out hope — the kind of hope that flies on silent wings — that pushed them through the frozen night.

As we enter into this holiday season, my wish for you is that you, too, will find yourself inspired to hope — even if your quest seems impossible. This is the season for that! Perhaps, you have been walking a long time in the cold and dark and there is no marked path in front of you. My years of hoping urge me to believe that we are all walking under an “Owl Moon” of the Great Love that shines upon us, that all of our calls are heard, and that if you will keep to your journey, the hope that comes on silent wings will bring you its most wondrous gifts — and more.

 

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Dr. Craig McMahan is University minister and an assistant professor of religion at Mercer University.