Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Looking out into the yard I saw a small brown bird – sparrow, wren, not sure what kind, prettily round and spotted, just big enough to settle its curved breast into your palm – picking its lunch out of our lawn, which is admittedly mostly moss.

It met my gaze and froze. Turned its little head right, left, to regard me with each eye. I froze too, not wanting it to flit away. Then it turned and stretched, hunching its shoulders and rising on its toes before returning to pecking. I had been it deemed, I saw, not enough of a threat.

But that speckly brown bird had had a moment, common for a small bird, I’m sure, of fear for its life. All the minutiae of its days – pecking, flying, nesting, feeding scrawny chicks, pecking some more – may have rushed through its head when it saw me there. How it would all end with a pounce. Its life was immensely important to it then. All its energy became focused on protecting it.

And what does a bird’s life mean? Other than pronouncements about the food chain and the ecosystem, whether a bird lives for two years or two years and two weeks seems of no importance whatever. If I were cat and gobbled it up, no creature on the planet would feel any different for a second. All the grand machinery of human existence, and almost all of animal existence, would grind on.

But Jesus said his Father knows: his eye is on every little brown bird. Every time the beak falls into the moss. Every time the wing breaks, the mate is eaten or the chick falls prey to a hungry crow.

The world is overwhelmingly complicated. Even in my own backyard I see the details of the lives of what we might consider the most unimportant creatures – ants, squirrels, robins, wrens – and am rendered almost speechless by what it takes for them to eat and sleep and reproduce. And every second of it passes like the finest sand through God’s fingers under his never-sleeping, loving eyes, which is the only comprehensible way we can say this: no detail of any being in the universe is hidden at any time from his complete knowledge and perfect love.

So the sparrow and I are on the same team, then, except for the fact that he can’t know it and I can, when by the grace of God I don’t forget. Providence is knitting it all, sickness and confusion and death, all of it, into something amazing that we’ll get a look at later. We’re even, by his love, given flashes of it now in the muck and muddle of our days.

And yet perhaps I assume too much. Why am I so sure that the bird can’t know about God’s care? It would give me hope, somehow, to think that there’s even a little-brown-bird way of being aware of Maker and Sustainer, some flitting knowledge, some avian-cerebral twitch, that signified even to this creature that God is with you.

I’m not asserting anything theological. It would just be...neat. And encouraging. Emily Dickinson was right on the money, I think. Hope is “the thing with feathers”.


At 6:28 am, March 23, 2006, Blogger Paula said...

Spring obviously hits the West Coast sooner than it does the bald, frozen Prairie. When the snow drifts melt, my daughter and I will go puddle jumping.

Until then I'll think of the sweet little bird in the moss, and it will carry me through!


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