catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 10 :: 2004.05.07 — 2004.05.20


Learning from birds

I heard her before I saw her. In a typical turn of Michigan spring weather, the wind had suddenly turned colder, but even with the office window closed, the frantic mother’s screeches reached my ears. Back and forth, back and forth she went, convinced that some unseen threat would take the lives of her children.

When I finally spotted her white belly and distinct shape in flight, I could identify her as a killdeer. Figuring her exposed eggs were threatened by the construction taking place behind the church, I quickly dismissed any thoughts of finding her nest. However, there she was Sunday morning, playing injured in the church parking lot to distract faithful churchgoers from her three speckled eggs that lay camouflaged in the landscaping stones. Before leaving church, I issued a verbal warning in the pre-service announcements and designated her space in the rocks with spare lumber from the shed.

I have a strange affinity for birds, even though my direct rescue and protection efforts are usually tainted by the thought, “Why can’t they just keep themselves out of trouble and away from humans?” Last summer, I was simultaneously cursing and falling in love with a young cedar waxwing rescued from the middle of a busy road. She didn’t flinch as my car went past her, merely chirped and chirped and chirped a warbling, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” Not being able to identify any mothers or nests nearby, I scooped her up and held her on my lap as I drove home. The hungry baby actually downed a couple of worms before I did the research to find out she actually wanted some nice, sweet berries. For the next week, she learned to chirp openmouthed for food every time she saw us and swallowed whole mulberries from the tree out behind the garage. We gradually taught her to feed herself and she gradually taught herself to fly quite proficiently around our screened in porch. No doubt a failed flying lesson was what caused me to find her in the first place.

Letting her go was a relief—we wouldn’t have to clean any more mulberry-colored stains off the porch furniture or handfeed a loud, stubborn creature ten or more times a day—but letting her go was also little like parting with my own child. She had even learned to fall asleep in our hands as we petted her small head. But we finally released her in the mulberry tree, too high for cats to get her, but just high enough for her to have a ready supply of food. Over the next couple of days, she’d chirp happily from the tree when she heard our voices, but soon, there was no chirping when we’d call.

I can’t help but be grateful for the ways I learn about God and about myself through small and various encounters with creation’s feathered beauties. I imagine God saying to us often, “Why can’t you just stay out of trouble?” but loving us more and more even while tending to our foolish, self-inflicted wounds. I imagine the Spirit extending moments and spaces of grace, gently warning others to stay away for a while and allowing us a bit of temporary protection from pain and fright. I imagine Christ patiently feeding me, shaping my hungry demands into quiet prayers: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

I’m sure I’ll come across many more injured birds in my lifetime: feeding a lost baby tuna juice with a medicine dropper in grade school was just a shadow of things to come. And as much as I will want to simply go about my daily tasks without the urgency of a life that need saving, I will be grateful for the small grace of being able to hold a lost one in the palm of my hand and give it new life even while it sleeps.

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