The Duck Ultimatum

When I arrived at the nearby lake today for my morning walk on the paved trail around it, there was quite a hubbub going on in the water. The portion of the lakeshore nearest the little parking area is a gathering point for many of the waterfowl for much of the day, because so many walkers and their children bring bread crumbs to toss to the floating crowd. Often you will hear a cacophony of squawks and quacks as the Canadian geese, mallard ducks, little coots, gulls, and others battle it out to snatch the tidbits.

This morning, there was indeed a crowd on the water milling around, but there was no one with food in sight.

As I got closer I realized I was only hearing one very, very loud bird. It was going, “Quack, quack (pause), quack, quack (pause)” over and over. It didn’t take long to spot the quacker. A female mallard was swimming frantically in and out among the other birds and quacking non-stop.

And it only took a few seconds once up close to see what her quacks were all about. The coots were no longer the smallest birds in the flock … sprinkled in among all the others were tiny little, brand-new mallard ducklings! I’d been wondering for weeks when the spring would start to bring new batches of baby birds to mommies on the lake like it did last year, and today was the day.  And Momma Duck was frantically trying to gather them up out of the crowd. As I watched, her efforts were rewarded as little duck feet began paddling toward her, and tagging along with her as she circled and circled.

In fairly short order, they were all gathered together, and Momma made a bee-line for the edge of the flock and on out into open water down the shoreline.  Within a minute or two it also became obvious who made up the rest of the family… Daddy mallard pulled closely in line and followed the parade down the shoreline. Momma seemed relieved to get the whole clan out of the middle of that chaotic crowd and out where she could keep track of every single little duckling. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight …

Eight? Wait … she’d started out with nine!

As I followed them down the shoreline, it became obvious that keeping track of Number Nine son was not going to be so easy.

He regularly wandered off to bob close to the shore and look for tasty tidbits of something in the tall grass. And then every so often he’d look up and realize that Momma and siblings were far, far away, and he’d have to paddle with all his little duck feet might in order to catch back up. I couldn’t help but hope that he’d learn his lesson quickly and not find himself left too far behind—as easy pickings for a predator.

So—what does this have to do with The Duck Ultimatum?

My daughter Ramona, now 40, has been a movie buff since she was a young teen.  She’s never just limited her watching to the latest hits, but has seen almost every classic film made since the 1930s. And she doesn’t just watch them for entertainment. She analyzes them and compares them and puts them under a magnifying glass to milk them for fascinating metaphors applicable to life. Sometimes she has turned her musings into movie reviews that have been published. Most of the time, she just shares them with me.

A while back she regaled me with a spiritual application she saw in the movie The Bourne Ultimatum, and insisted I watch the movie. I found her metaphor fascinating. In the scene in question, movie hero Jason Bourne is in a huge train station filled with swarming crowds of people. Also in the station is an investigative reporter who is being trailed by several of the movie’s bad guys. Bourne can identify the bad guys, but the reporter isn’t even sure who he needs to avoid. Because of Jason’s intensive training in the past to be totally aware of everything in his environment, he is able to keep the reporter in his line of sight at a distance at all times, as well as perceive danger from any direction in an instant.
He has a radio connection to the reporter—he can speak into his microphone and the reporter will hear in his earpiece. He has given the reporter strict instructions to listen carefully to his every order and respond instantly, if he wants to escape from danger.

So for several tense minutes in the movie you watch Jason spot one of the bad guys and bark an order to the reporter to duck down, or head in a different direction, or elude the enemy with some other maneuver. The pace is fast and furious, and you are encouraged that the reporter is doing so well following directions under such stressful and confusing conditions.

And then suddenly the reporter spots someone that he is convinced is one of the enemies, and decides to take matters into his own hands and dash off in another direction … a move that will put him out in the open and totally vulnerable. Jason tries frantically to explain to him that the person he has been frightened by is actually an ally, not one of the enemy. But the reporter is so “spooked” that he bolts … right into the line of fire of a sniper. It’s the last choice he will ever make.

Mona explained to me that when she first saw that scene in the movie, she immediately thought of how things go sometimes in the life of a Christian. At times life may be chaotic, stresses and pressure at the maximum, spiritual or physical danger possible at every turn. The path out of these circumstances may seem utterly confusing, choices difficult to make. But if we are “tuned in” to the guidance of God, who knows everything about our circumstances, and every pitfall to be avoided, and every clever trick of the Enemy, He can guide us safely through all of it.

Strangely enough, as I saw that milling flock of water birds this morning, it made me think of that crowded train station! And as I saw and heard that Momma duck quacking “Comeherecomeherecomeherecomehere” to her little ones, weaving in and out of the crowd to make sure they could hear her voice, I thought of Jason Bourne. She was guiding them out of that confusing situation, to a place where they would be safe. All they needed to do was to pay attention and follow her guidance.

Well, no … actually first they needed to be sure they recognized her voice, and once they did, not allow themselves to be distracted by the other voices around. In the case of Number Nine Son, not even the distracting “voices” of the tasty tidbits along the shoreline saying “cometastemecometastemecometasteme.”

This little Duck Ultimatum story puts me in mind of the time Jesus said, “My sheep know my voice, and another’s voice they will not follow.” Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians in modern times, for whatever reason, find themselves a bit confused when they look or listen for spiritual guidance. They may think that they are following the lead of the Holy Spirit, when actually their choices are being influenced by their own subconscious desires, or by the deceptions of false teachers or false prophets, by the pulls of the flesh, or sometimes even by influence of unclean spirits. The “voice” of Jesus can get lost in the cacophony of that kind of crowd.

If you sometimes find yourself easily distracted like Ducky Number Nine, I’d suggest praying fervently that God show you how to “train your ears” better to recognize and pay close attention to the voice of the only True Shepherd. Your spiritual safety depends on it.

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