Consider the birds of the air

AUDIO VERSION

 

Priscilla and I had each been in church on Easter morning every year of our lives, from the time we were infants, until 2014, when she couldn’t leave the house. It cushioned the blow greatly to have good friends come and spend the holiday weekend with us. Sarah’s parents, Ralph and Lisa, arrived on Good Friday afternoon. We shared pizza and salad together that evening and had a great time reminiscing. The next day, after brunch, Ralph and I went out to get a salmon to grill that night and some pastries for Easter morning.

We were on our way home from shopping when we got a call from Priscilla. A prescription had come in for her and she wanted us to pick it up at the pharmacy. We were stopped at a light, in the left turn lane, but we’d need to go straight for the pharmacy. The only way to do this now was to turn left anyway, then turn right into a strip mall parking lot, and finally come out again onto our original street. “Could it be?” I asked myself when I realized this would take us right past the door of a bakery that I knew made hot cross buns on Easter weekend. The buns were a holiday tradition for me, like the King’s College service on Christmas Eve; many years I’d made them myself. They always sold out fast at this bakery, but we took a chance and went inside.  We found that a batch had just come out of the oven and been frosted. A dozen, please.

This had to be done right. Ralph and I brought the patio table and three chairs (Priscilla had her own) out of storage and set them up on the back deck. Then the four of us sat out there enjoying the lovely weather, the fresh hot cross buns, and one another’s company on a glorious afternoon. Priscilla and I both lay down to rest afterwards, but our guests worked outside, weeding and turning the compost pile. We had our salmon dinner that evening and played some games until it was time for bed—around 8:30 for us, since we had to do range-of-motion exercises and other things before our heads could hit the pillow around 10:00.  But outside the bedroom door we heard the sound of little elves helping us with household tasks.

“Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed!” It was great to be able to exchange these greetings with dear friends and not be home all alone on Easter. While enjoying our pastries, we watched a church service online and then some worship videos, including Robin Mark’s song The Wonder of Your Cross, which would later be played just before the start of Priscilla’s memorial service. Ralph and Lisa had to leave by mid-afternoon, and as soon as they did, we both lay down and slept to start catching up from a busier than usual weekend that had been more than worth the investment of energy.

But just before our friends left, we all heard a repetitive banging on the kitchen window and went to investigate. Priscilla kept a bird feeder outside that window so that she could watch the birds while cooking and doing dishes. A female cowbird had claimed the feeder as her territory. Not only was she chasing away all the other birds, she thought that her reflection in the window was a rival cowbird, and she kept attacking it.  Hence the banging.

Solving this problem took a couple of weeks. We read online that the cowbird was likely after the sunflower seeds in our mix, and that if we put only safflower seeds in the feeder, she’d lose interest, particularly if we scrubbed off all the oil residue from the sunflower seeds. When time permitted, I did this. Sure enough, the cowbird stopped eating the seeds. But she continued to guard the feeder as her territory anyway.

I tried moving the feeder to our back deck, where we had another hook that we usually used for a hummingbird feeder a little later in the year. The cowbird stayed where she was outside the kitchen window, now jealously keeping all the other birds out of a space where there was no feed of any kind. To our delight, the other birds returned to the feeder in its new location.

We realized only after the fact that they were now where Priscilla could watch them all the time, just outside the sliding door to the deck, rather than at the kitchen window, where she never stood any more. She typically set up in sight of the feeder for the first several hours out of bed each day. She got to the point where she could identify male and female of some 20 different species and even recognize individual birds as they came to feed, such as the three male house finches that, based on their varying coloration, she named Rusty, Red, and Fred.

We sent this report out to the list of people who’d offered to pray for us: Recently we’ve moved our bird feeder around to the deck so we can watch the birds from our dining room.  Sparrows, chickadees, house finches, goldfinches, nuthatches, tufted titmice, blue jays, downy woodpeckers, and (on special mornings) a red-bellied woodpecker crowd happily around the feeder, reminding us of what Jesus said about God’s love and care:  “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Consider the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. [We’re happy to have a small role in helping with this.]  Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” And with a reminder of this right out our window, we go through each day with less worry and more trust.

Eventually the cowbird realized that she was guarding empty space and moved on.  But we’d always remember Easter 2014 both for the blessed time we’d had with our friends and for her appearance, which got us to move the bird feeder out where Priscilla could enjoy her “little friends” once again.  You’ll hear more about the birds later in this story.  They were a source of both enjoyment and spiritual insight.

Male house finches, like “Rusty” and “Fred” who came to our feeder.

 

Author: endlessmercies

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister and served local churches as a pastor for nearly twenty years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School. Dr. Smith answers questions about the Bible, particularly those that arise from the use of his study guides, at goodquestionblog.com.

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