In last week’s post I talked about the sanctity of all life and reflected on some wonderful quotations from the writings of John Muir. Having done so I want to say that it is one thing to affirm the sanctity of all life; it is another thing to put this affirmation into practice.
Recently I was introduced to the music of folk singer Carrie Newcomer. I was given one of her CDs for my birthday in April and really liked what I heard. A couple of weeks ago it just so happened that Carrie was present at a conference I was attending in Denver and did a concert for the group. I thoroughly enjoyed her performance and was impressed not only with Carrie’s beautiful voice but with the way she crafted the words in the lyrics of her songs. When I discovered she had also published a book of her poetry and essays I knew that I had to get it.
The title of Carrie’s book is A Permeable Life. One of the poems included in this volume is called Titmouse and in my estimation puts flesh on what it means to affirm the sanctity of all life. “On the bitter winter ground I found a small grey titmouse with a broken wing. As I stopped to consider how I might help her, it became apparent that something else was also broken inside her, and that she was dying. It is the way of the world, one animal will eat another animal, and all animals, (including the human kind), eventually go back into the earth. And yet I could not leave her there, to die alone in the snow. I cradled her in my mittened hands and warmed her with my breath, trying to make her as comfortable as possible. I hummed to her and breathed a silent prayer to the god of snow and spring and small birds. After a while, her eyes drifted closed. She did not struggle or appear afraid. She was beyond that now, she was just infinitely tired and wise, in the way that things approaching a great mystery are often wise.”
I am deeply touched by the way Carrie was moved with such compassion that she felt compelled to “not leave her there, to die alone in the snow” and how she went on to seek to warm the little creature, to hum to her and pray for her as well. Carrie’s actions make me recall Jesus’ words found in Matthew 10:29—“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”
There is plenty of evidence in the Scriptures to reveal that God does, in fact, care for all of His creatures. If God cares for them all then so should we. How might we actually care for them? I can think of a lot of ways but I do believe that when I hear that question raised in the future I will think of a certain poem by Carrie Newcomer.
(I photographed the titmouse, goldfinch and killdeer chick all in Henderson, Kentucky.)
I guess I’m finally going to have to admit it. I’ve become a birder. I never thought that would happen but the evidence is overwhelming. In recent months I’ve spent over $100 on bird books, attended three programs on birds, and spent a small fortune on bird seed and other birding supplies. I’m currently reading a fascinating book on bird language called What the Robin Knows by Jon Young. I’ve started keeping my long lens in the car so that if I come across a good opportunity to photograph a bird I’ll be ready. I’ve even been listening to recordings of bird sounds so I can better identify the birds I’m hearing around me. I haven’t reached the obsessed stage yet but I’m afraid it’s coming.
I’ve always liked birds. Don’t most people? I’ve enjoyed taking pictures of them for a number of years. Yes, I’ve liked birds for a long time but it wasn’t until I moved back to western Kentucky a couple of years ago that I really started getting interested in them. Where I now reside is by anyone’s definition a birder’s paradise. It is located on a major flyway and has an abundance of remarkable habitat that draws many birds to the area. John James Audubon lived here long ago and the area no doubt contributed to his own passion for birds. A state park that bears his name is located just a mile from my home and it has a plethora of bird species year round.
Having so many species of birds at my back door (literally) has sparked my interest in birds. I’m still not very good at identifying a good many species and I find distinguishing bird calls to be incredibly difficult and frustrating. Still, I intend to work on both disciplines and hopefully will make improvements in the coming months. I have a feeling I’ll never be that good at it but I guess I’m finally ready to officially join the ranks of birders.
Jesus once encouraged his disciples to “look at the birds of the air.” (Mt. 6:26) Since it is estimated that there are around 10,000 species of birds that may take a while. He also told a group “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Mt. 10:29) Both biblical passages remind me that we can, in fact, learn much from “the birds of the air.” The late theologian and preacher John Stott has a wonderful book called The Birds: Our Teachers. If you are interested in learning spiritual principles derived from observing birds I highly recommend this book. Perhaps if I pay careful attention I might learn a few lessons as well.
O.k., I feel better getting that off my chest. Birders of the world (all 22 million of you) take note; you have added one more member to your tribe. I hope you will accept me and be patient with me. I have a lot to learn!
(I took the images shown above–northern cardinal, rose-breasted grosbeak, goldfinch and prothonotary warbler over the past week at my home and at Henderson Sloughs WMA.
Yesterday while my wife and I were riding in the car she played a song for me from one of her favorite Christian groups, 33 Miles. She told me it was a song that meant a lot to her and after listening to it I can understand why. Here are the words to a portion of the song: “And the arms that hold the universe are holding you tonight. You can rest inside, it’s gonna be alright. And the voice that calmed the raging sea is calling you His child. So be still and know He’s in control; He will never let you go. You can hope, you can rise, you can stand; He’s still got the whole world in His hands. You can hope, you can rise, you can stand; He’s still got the whole world, the whole world in His hands.”
As you and I look out at the wonders of Creation it is very important to always remember that behind Creation stands the Creator. God has made Himself known through that which He has made, through the events of history, and above all else through His Son, Jesus Christ. That which is revealed over and over is that the God who made this universe has “the whole world in His hands” and that He is not a distant unknowable being but a God who extends love and compassion to all that He has made. As hard as it is for some to believe, God actually cares about each of us and loves us immensely.
This morning in church we sang the hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow.” This song reminds us of Jesus’ words, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.” (Matthew 10:29) In both the song and the scripture verse we are given the assurance that God watches over all of His Creation and that we can rest assured that He watches over us as well.
It brings me great comfort to know that the arms that hold the universe are also holding me. Knowing that God cares for me I can hope, I can rise, and I can stand even in the toughest of times. Knowing that the Creator loves me so much also makes me appreciate His Creation more and both motivates and inspires me to be a better steward of it. I hope it will motivate and inspire you to do the same. But more than anything, I hope you will somehow sense God’s loving arms around you for that is where we will find our greatest joy and peace.
(I photographed the whitetail fawn at Shenandoah National Park, the goldfinch in Middlesboro, KY, and the sunset clouds at Paducah, KY.)