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There it was, within January’s mid-morning brilliance, immobile save for yellow-encircled bead eyes in its brown head rotating in all directions. It was the American robin, solitary, its claws grasping one of the bare branches of my lilac bush, their hard tips swelling with promise of color.

As I watched, ancient legends of robins came to mind.

The robin’s russet breast recalled that of another: Moved by the blood-soaked prisoner carrying a cross-beam that morning at Calvary, that robin noted His crown of thorns mashed into His head, plucked out one, and flew off, its breast ever stained with His blood.

Another legend credits the robin for shielding the Christ Child during the family’s harrowing trip to Egypt. A nearby fire spewed sparks threatening the Infant, but were absorbed by the robin.

Such legends also attributed to many kinds of birds—doves, peacocks, eagles, gold finches, larks, owls, pelicans, blackbirds, etc.—found their way into the work of Renaissance artists and suggests their rich imaginal interplay. Indeed, a certain playfulness, in the deepest sense, suggests a faith-dynamic absent in many Christians: Their fire has gone out.

It was so still as I continued watching my robin. Variegated browns and blacks filled out her wing and tail feathers that ruffled in docile breezes.

Then, the robin flew away. Again, I’d been visited, my world enlarged with hope.

Outside my study window, a shivering branch catches my attention: upon it has alighted a plump tree sparrow, its short beak foraging for insects. Upon its sandy-colored head and thin striped tail feathers, the morning sun plays like a child messing with finger-paints: shadows and light kiss. In no hurry, the sparrow’s foraging continues, as also its twittering enlivening my backyard: a microcosm for what occurs in many parts of the world.

But who has time to look? To enjoy, the myriad gifts freely offered in our daily bread? Certainly, matters of extreme urgency had filled much of my earlier life.

Only during Gloucester retreats did my inner chatter cease, and the seascape come alive with the message of Jesus: Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?

So the tree sparrow continues carrying the message of feeding. I have only to look out my study window to be filled—and the nourishment is always different.

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