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Mournful cry

Mournful cry

What’s the saddest sound in nature?

I’ve heard many surprising sounds during my outdoor jaunts.  There was the heart-catching scream of a small animal presumably being devoured in the middle of the night not far from my fireside sleeping bag.  There was the rapid drumming of a ruffed grouse, which I felt in my chest as much as heard.  And there was the deep roaring of howler monkeys from high above me in a steamy rainforest.  To name a few.

But the most mournful sound ever to reach my ears is the call of a loon.

My cousin drives me in his boat across the Ontario lake we both know well.  He also knows my affinity for loons, so when he sees one floating nearby, he pulls close to give me the chance to get a detailed photo.  He promises me that it won’t be easily disturbed.

As we circle it, it makes its distinctive call.  (If you’ve never heard it, take a listen.)  It starts like two notes from a recorder, then trails off like as if in sad resignation.  Hearing the call up close, I realize that distance amplifies the sadness – its echo across a lake at sunset is powerfully poignant.

It makes me wonder: what is the saddest sound to reach God’s ears?  I know this is a worse anthropomorphism than saying the loon is mournful, but Scripture allows the metaphoric use of body parts – hand, feet, eyes, ears.

So, what sound would it be?  My guess is that it would be the cry of a desperate human.  There are cries of longing and grief in the Bible, along with those of the oppressed:

People cry out under a load of oppression; they plead for relief from the arm of the powerful.   Job 35:9

Scripture tells us that God especially tunes in to those who cry out to him in their time of desperate need:

The Lord hears the needy and does not despise his captive people.  Ps. 69:33

In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears.  Ps. 18:6

As the sun sets, I catch a nice image of three loons.  This contrasts to the heartbreaking loneliness of the bird’s call.  It’s that sound of isolation that touches our deep-seated fear that in our struggle, our pain, our oppression, we are left to fend with our only own meager or depleted resources.

But it is exactly at that point of depletion that our cry for God’s mercy and help reaches his ears.  He hears us when he has no fellow-suitors for our rescue.

He sees his peoples' fears,
He notes their mournful cry;
He counts their sighs and falling tears,
And helps them from on high.
         John Newton   

The lonely call of the loon should remind me of more than God’s presence in pain.  It should point me toward his promise that in the coming kingdom, “the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.”  (Is. 65:19)

Then, if there are loons in the recreated Earth, their trembling notes will be only a faint hint of our former pain, heightening the joy of our eternal deliverance.

Father God, you have wired us to respond to the sounds of nature in ways the birds and beasts cannot understand.  You so often use them to lean our hearts toward you.  We thank you for this reminder of how near you are to those who cry to you.

Reader: What is the most striking sound you have heard in nature?  Drop me a note – I’d love to hear about it!

Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. And if you liked this, please use the buttons above to share it.


Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.

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