Over the past few weeks, many of us have been spending more time outside in our gardens and the recent fine weather has been an added incentive. As I have spent time sitting on the patio with a cup of tea, or a book, I have been watching the birds fly back and forward to the various bird feeders I keep in the garden. Normally once the worst of the winter is past, I stop filling them, but for some reason this year I continued, and it has been a real revelation.
I get enormous pleasure from watching the birds – I have been known to talk to them and like to tell myself that sometimes they are actually listening or responding. But it has also occurred to me that what I see before me is a little community which is centred on the bird feeders being regularly refilled. The birds will not starve if I do not refill them; they will find food elsewhere in the garden or in other gardens. But they are happy to have the food available to them, and especially now at peak nesting time; it is regular and nourishing food for them.
At the gable end of our house is a nest built several years ago by house martins, who return each year after spending the winter in the southern hemisphere. I remember being astounded to learn of the journey they make, usually back to nest near to where they were hatched themselves. Their activity around the nest is, for me, a hallmark of long summer evenings and their arrival always creates a sense of hope in me. This year however the nest was already occupied long before the martins are due to return from abroad, and the squatters are a family of house sparrows. Last night, as I sat outside, I was listening to the persistent noise of the baby sparrows in the nest and realised that one of the adults was sitting on the edge of the roof, just above the nest, with something in its beak. It was something like a dragonfly, and over the next few minutes, the adult bird made several unsuccessful attempts before eventually managing to get the large insect into the nest to the waiting chicks. It was a masterclass in patience and strength and love.
Apart from the sheer beauty of their movement, their sky ballet and aeronautical gymnastics, they made me think about God’s love and care for us. So often, it’s the nourishment from gathering around God’s table which makes us community, and the spiritual food received at that table sustains for all that life can throw at us. Like the adult sparrow at the nest, God seems to me to be persistent in caring and providing for each us, even when we miss, ignore, or are not open to the gifts and graces he offers. Whatever the obstacles God is always waiting to feed and care for us with patience, strength and love.
Dympna is a writer and speaker, promoting Laudato Si, advocating change and greater awareness of our interdependence with all aspects of God’s creation. She works in pastoral ministry.