About those Birds’ Nests in our Hanging Ferns…
Psalm 148, Romans 1:20
June 25, 2017
As I read the reflections of Richard Rohr on “Nature as the first Bible” (see “Daily Meditations,” January 19, 2015-January 22, 2015), I cannot help but think of my many years attending Quiet Directed Retreats. While preparing for my most recent trip, I posted some comments on facebook about what these retreats have meant to me over time. A neighbor imagined trying to engage so much silence and responded, “I’m not sure if us average folks can handle it.” Ten years ago, I felt the same way.
Yet, in the interim, I have discovered the rich sound, texture, and value of Extended Silence. Such practice allows us to hear that which we have been missing, both deep within and outside of ourselves. It allows us to slow down and learn from that ancient speech of the ages–the speech of the Natural World, whose Wisdom surrounds us every day. In her midst, God meets us in many unexpected guises.
Steve and I have not been able to sit on the porch much this summer, due to the racket the bird parents create when we get near their nests in our hanging ferns. The Hammond Hatchery has been open for business since mid-April. Two robin families in two different locations, a wren family, and now, the finches.
One day this week, I thought I would try sitting quietly on the porch swing for just a few minutes. A finch quickly flew out of the fern, meeting its mate on a tree branch in our front yard. Together, the pair flew to some foliage next door. Then they returned and perched on the telephone wires. They stared down at me as I sat on the swing. Back and forth the finches went. Tree, neighbor’s bush, telephone wires. Three times. At one point, one bird swooped toward the house, but then turned abruptly away.
How could I resist their full-body-language plea? I went inside and sat on the couch to watch. In seconds, one bird flew back into the fern.
“Such fiercely protective instincts!” I noted. Nearly simultaneously, I was reminded of the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the fiercely protective instincts of the Good Shepherd who leaves behind the 99 in pursuit of the one. I was reminded of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, whose father never gives up on him as he squanders his inheritance far away from his family home. The story of the two finches became its own parable about our fiercely protective and present God.
Jesus tells stories about wildflowers, grass of the field, seeds on rich and fallow ground. He spins stories about fig trees, sparrows, and treasure hidden in a field. He riffs off nature, using observations of the natural world to teach his disciples lessons about human life as well.
Has anyone besides Steve and me felt that wind warnings are becoming more common around northeast Ohio? During such times, our hanging ferns twirl around and around like some crazy Cedar Point ride. I keep wondering how the nest, the eggs, the baby birds, are faring. Might the nest fall out of the fern? Could the babies get dizzy, like my husband on a Tilt-a-Whirl? Steve keeps reassuring me that birds have faced many worse perils, and they are doing just fine.
Once the baby robins, our first progeny on the porch, were hatched and launched out in the world, Steve took their fern home down. It had survived several nights of frost after a string of mild days during which the nest had been constructed. It had endured several wind events and even survived the Good Friday snowstorm.
Steve cut the fern back, exposing the nest. The handiwork was astonishing. The nest was woven deep into that space by none other than a Master Weaver. Nothing short of the fern itself blowing away could have harmed that nest.
My mind again drifted to the Parables of Jesus, straight to the story of the wise man who builds his house upon a rock, and the foolish one who constructs his house on sand. One structure withstands the storms; the other doesn’t stand a chance. The wise birds make this parable plain.
After Steve cut this fern back, he left it for dead. It had been through a lot. Steve kept it on the porch so the grandkids could see the well constructed nest the next time they came. He did not water it or care for it in any way. Yet, miracles of miracles occurred! After several dry weeks of sitting on the porch floor, receiving limited sun at best, that scraggly fern roared back to life! New shoots of green growth began rising up around the brown wilted ones, defying all human predictions. Given this new state of affairs, Steve began watering the fern again. Today, this plant may be less dense than the other porch ferns, yet it is green and growing. The beautiful empty robin’s nest still remains, like a crown jewel resting in the middle. A parable of resurrection has slapped us in the face!
In these turbulent times, I invite you to experiment with mini-Silent Retreats, even in five, ten, or fifteen minute increments–just watching and listening. Such experiences can help ground us in a story that is bigger than the exploits of human behavior which trouble us every day. They can pull us away from our predisposition toward anthropocentrism, or human-centeredness, and re-engage us in the Deep Story of the whole Community of Creation. We can feast on moments of “Aweism,” in praise for the Creator who dances around us in plain sight, in endlessly unexpected guises.