Two years ago on Mother’s Day, my children and grandchildren gave me an amazing gift: a large, full-on bird-feeder! Made of heavy black iron, it has four long curved ‘arms’ that curl on the ends to hold containers for seeds and nuts, a block of suet, and, dried mealworms (!). They planted the feeder outside a kitchen window where I would have an unobstructed view of the feeder, filled the four containers, wished me happy watching, and left me to watch and wonder.
Some of you are probably veteran bird-watchers. I am (or was) a complete neophyte. I know what robins, cardinals, and blue jays, look like but that’s about all. As a longtime baseball fan, I know that there are three teams named for birds: the Baltimore Orioles, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the St. Louis Cardinals (who, hooray, are doing wonderfully well so far this year!)
At first, not many birds showed up. When I told my son, a veteran bird watcher who lives outside New York City, that there wasn’t much action at the feeder, he said, “Don’t worry, Mom. They’ll come. It takes time for word to get around the neighborhood.”
He was right. A few days later several blue jays swooped in, making the feeders swing raucously from the weight of their large bodies. They ate vigorously. Other birds came in their wake, and I quickly realized how little I knew about the diverse population of these interesting creatures existing right outside my kitchen window that I had never taken time to see.
It was time for a book. A Field Guide to Birds of Tennessee, and a brightly colored laminated folder with vivid images of Tennessee Birds filled the bill. Armed with these tools I began to identify the birds, slowly, one by one: a quiet, slow-moving mourning dove that I had thought was a pigeon, several beautiful, energetic woodpeckers (I thought all woodpeckers looked the same; they most definitely do not and the varieties are dazzling), the shiny aggressive grackle.
After a few weeks of paying attention to what they looked like, I began to notice their characteristics: the self-contained cardinals who fly in, eat their fill, and quietly depart; the tiny energetic chickadees; the bullying bluejays, who, according to the field guide and to my great surprise are the most intelligent of all birds.
I decided not to count them, or make a list of the birds I’d seen. I wanted to just look at them, or as Jesus put it, ‘Consider’ them. I noticed that they are very different from one another, not just in size and color, but in energy, instinct, style, and the way they interact, or not, with each other.
For all their diversity, they seem to have one thing in common: they are hungry, really hungry: for nourishing food, for clean air, for space, for freedom to be who they are in the same space with those who are very different from them.
“Consider the birds of the air,” Jesus said. “They neither toil nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” I used to hear this as a warning against worrying too much. After all, God feeds them, they know it, so don’t be anxious. Be more like the birds!
Now I hear those familiar words very differently. Jesus is not encouraging us to be like birds, Jesus calls us to SEE the world around us, recognize God’s steadfast care, and whenever possible, enhance God’s work in the world, even if it is just with a nut, a seed, or a square of suet.