Life, Death, and Rutting Season


It’s rutting season.  The lazy days of summer are long gone, and the fervor of breeding time has begun.  Mature whitetail bucks rub the velvet off their antlers and set out, roaming, seeking, sparring; and mature whitetail does come into estrus for 72-hour stints up to seven times over the season.  For them, the forests and fields come alive with a single-minded goal: to mate, to bring forth newness of life in the spring.  The word itself - "rutting" - comes from an old Latin word for "roar."

This year school's fall break coincided perfectly with rutting season, and on our seven-hour car trip north to visit family, we drove along highway after highway littered with corpses.  Driven by the forces of life, these deer venture out onto six-lane interstates of death.

It’s hard to know what to say to small children when they see so many deer lying on the side of the road.  They're just such lovely animals, skin like carmel, brown eyes round and soft, antlers like brown sugar and velvet all at once.  We must have counted fifteen on the way there, and more than twenty on the way home.  And the questions came, too: "Mom, why so many? Why is his head bent back like that? Dad, what’s that bird doing on top of his belly? When Jesus brings everything back to life, will he bring back the deer, too?”

Who am I to say he won’t?  That life isn’t stronger than death, even and especially along the shoulder of a superhighway?  That the mercy Jesus extolled in that famous story, the mercy for the one left for dead on the roadside, isn't a mercy meant for them, too, not to mention the birds of the air and the lilies of the field?

I may not have all the answers, but this much I know:  I don’t want my children to have to grow up in a world of so much violence, so much death, so much pain.  As we were driving, all I could think of was that ancient song, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul for longs you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” + Psalm 42

As the nights get longer and cooler, the fervor of rutting season begins.  Soon the season of Advent will be upon us, and we’ll be able to cry out once again for God to come, to clean up the mess we’ve made, to raise the dead, to mend the broken, to comfort the children crying in the back seat (and their parents in the front). 

My soul longs to sit in a warm church, to light candles week after week after week, and to pray for God to come and make things right, inspiring us anew to play our role in that great mission.  I’m like that lover in the Song of Songs who hears the voice of her beloved, lifts her eyes up to the mountains, and sees God leaping, darting, and bounding like a deer during rutting season.  God, she sings, is like a gazelle, a young stag, who comes bounding into our lives to announce this good news:  the winter will end, flowers and baby deer will appear upon the earth, and death will be no more.  For the time of singing has come, and will come again.  The cold, dark months in their own way will serve as a season of hope, and new life will rise with the spring. + Song of Songs 2:11-12