Image of the Week – Pelican

pelican in flight

Image of the Week – Pelican

This week’s image:

pelican in flight


Pelicans don’t really pierce their own chests with their beaks and feed their young with the blood in time of famine, but the writers of medieval bestiaries thought they did.  As a result, the pelican became a major Christian symbol of the Middle Ages, an image of extreme generosity and charity.  The pelican is Christ who sacrifices himself and redeems humanity through the shedding of his blood, and who continues to feed us with his body and blood through the eucharist.

You know, I’ve never really understood the Christian fascination with blood.

It’s not just Christians, obviously.  Blood is “deep magic” for lots of traditions, cultures, and religions.  As humans, we are drawn to blood and repulsed by it.  We donate it to save others and we spill it indiscriminately on battlefields.  We evoke it in our sacred rituals and religious art and we splatter it across the screen in schlocky horror movies.

For me, the image of this pelican in flight is inspiring.  It speaks of freedom and grace and the simple beauty of a creature just doing what the Creator made it to do.  The medieval image of a pelican feeding its young with blood gushing out of its chest, on the other hand, is … ick.

So what am I missing about the blood thing?  Is it the essential creatureliness of blood – that all of us, whether we’re bears, lizards, people, or the pelican in this photo, need blood to live?  Is it the way the sight of blood triggers our fight-or-flight instincts and pulls us into an intense awareness of life-and-death reality?  Is it an invitation from God to overcome our basic fear of death in order to think beyond ourselves and our own individual survival?

Or is it just ick?

[Photo credit: Ann Naylor.  Reflection: Scott Douglas.]

What do you think?  What does this image or this reflection say to you?