Archived Story

Lessons from the bird feeder

Published 4:02pm Wednesday, March 26, 2014

One of the things I love about the Tryon area is the wild birds. For five years now we have been feeding them, and learning from the experience. We have three feeders on our deck. Like others in the community, we have experimented with different seeds and attended workshops. We even have a small shelf of bird books. Over the years we’ve witnessed a lot at the bird feeder.
Our recent “winter experience” may have closed just about every school, office, and store in the community, but our birdfeeders did a land office business.
For several days we hosted dozens of birds – all kinds – big ones, little ones, different colors and temperaments, cardinals, titmouse’s, finches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, blue jays, mourning doves, sparrows and others I couldn’t recognize.
They perched in the shrubs, tree branches, and the deck railing. Some were quiet, others were loud. There was even one old red-bellied woodpecker. At first he seemed lost, hanging precariously on the side of the feeder, but he soon figured it out.
And since the big snow he’s become a regular. Why, even three crows showed up, prancing around the driveway picking up the scraps. It was like an orthonological version of the Shepherds Feast.
Watching birds, of course, is nothing new. In Psalm 84 we read: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself.” Jesus himself talked about birds.
In Matthew 10:29 he said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”
In first century Palestine sparrows were a “dime a dozen,” or as Jesus said, “two for a penny.” Of all the bird species Jesus could have chosen, he singled out the sparrow (cousin to our finches); one of the smallest and least significant birds, known even then for their obnoxious behavior. So if God manages somehow to keep tabs on every sparrow, then who is not on his watch list? Perhaps there are some spiritual lessons that we can learn from our feathery friends at the bird feeder.
Unlike humans, who tend to spend most of their time with people of the same faith or political persuasion, neighborhood or nationality, birds don’t exclusively hang out with members of their own flock.
Birds seem to live with differences more easily than humans. Mourning doves share the feeder with finches, while others sit in the nearby bushes waiting their turn. And then every once in a while you see a male and female cardinal sitting on the bird feeder feeding each other.
Why do humans get so uptight over differences? And what about our need to try to control everything? And why do we get so angry and frustrated when things don’t go our way?
There is a pecking order at the feeder and occasionally there is conflict.
Some species do seem to take advantage of others. And even in our little corner of the woods we occasionally see a red tailed hawk, or an owl, a reminder that sometimes even the prettiest little song birds end up on someone’s dinner plate.
And periodically things get all stirred up when a raccoon comes by and cleans out the feeder, or a bear hauls it off for lunch. But even with these challenges, life goes on at the bird feeder.
Our birds are faithful. Each day they come to the feeder like regulars at the local coffee shop. And when I am traveling and the feeders run low in seeds, they return like loyal customers when I refill the feeders. It may seem improbable, but in the end everyone seems to be able to eat his or her fill.
In Matthew 6:25-26 Jesus said: “Do not worry about your life. Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not of more value than they?” Perhaps the greatest lesson from the birdfeeder is that we also can trust in God’s providence.
There is no need to worry. In our anxious world it’s all too easy for us to get confused about who really fills the bird feeders of life. God’s grace always exceeds our expectations, whether at the birdfeeder or in life.

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