Ordinary Time: Consider the Birds {Book Club}

The Lord your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
                                    —Zephaniah 3:17

 

On the morning of the equinox, I sent my twins outdoors to gather leaves for our botany study. They got as far as the French doors that lead to the patio and stopped cold. “Mama!” one cried. “Look!”

I looked. Into the laurel hedge in our backyard were flying dozens of tiny birds. Several kinds of chickadees as well as golden-crowned kinglets (the smallest of our Northwest birds, a mere three inches long) were flitting by the dozen in and out of the laurel and the adjacent cedar tree. We watched them swoop in and land, swoop out and circle in the air above the laurel, swoop back in and land again, sometimes in pairs or triads, sometimes in large groups, sometimes solo. We listened to them cheep and chitter and dee-dee-dee. Botany was forgotten in the wonder of bird flight and bird song.

Later that afternoon, as I was driving to the train station to pick up my husband, the honking of a flock of Canadian geese penetrated the closed windows of my car. I looked up to see a score or more of wing-flapping silhouettes in V-formation, black against the blue sky.

Later still, as I was washing the dinner dishes, a flash of black caught the tail of my eye and I looked out my kitchen window in time to see a pileated woodpecker alight on the stump of a Douglas fir in the backyard. The patch of bright red on his head shone like a ten-carat ruby. “Oh, look!” I cried to my husband and kids, and they did—in time to see a second pileated woodpecker swoop across the yard and alight on the fir. I had never seen a pair of them together before. I stood with soapy, dripping hands beside the sink and drank those gorgeous birds in.

I still can’t quite believe all three of those bird-sightings happened on the same day, without my doing anything except being where I was and happening to look up at the right moment.

Jesus tells us to consider the birds. They neither labor nor spin, yet even Solomon in all his splendor did not have a crown as gorgeous as my pileated woodpeckers’ or as my tiny kinglets with their bright yellow head stripe.

*****

As we continue to flit or trudge through Ordinary Time, this longest season of the church year, it is easy to forget to consider the birds, or the lilies, or the ordinary splendor of an ordinary day. The days march along, and sometimes we keep up with them and sometimes they run us over. Regardless, God is with us: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”

We may be small as a kinglet, but we cannot fall to the ground—or wing up to the skies—apart from our Father. God sees us and rejoices over us with gladness. I confess I have a long history of rebelling against my smallness. I don’t want to be a kinglet, thank you, I want to be an eagle, majestic and soaring—and visible from a long way away. From the time I was 11, I wanted to do great things for God. I was going to be an overseas worker to Russia, braving the Iron Curtain to spread the love of Jesus. But honestly, I was at least as interested in being a hero—or rather, in being seen and known as a hero—as I was in spreading the Good News. Chances are, if I’d actually gone to Russia, it wouldn’t have been as glamorous as I imagined. I’d have had to do mundane things like laundry and dishes and grocery shopping—the very things I’m doing now.

Truth is, I would have chafed at that. Just as I have chafed at staying home and raising my kids. This work I do is so…small, so ordinary. So unimportant.

We humans are silly creatures, running after numbers and fame and wealth like lemmings off a cliff. But size does not determine value. Visibility does not determine value. Cost does not determine value. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? They are small. They are ubiquitous and therefore invisible. They are inexpensive. And yet—“not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father.” God likes small, invisible places. He likes small, invisible people. He works in small, invisible ways, like yeast in dough. Small, yes. Ordinary, sure. Unimportant? No way. How else would the dough get leavened?

The older I get the more fully I realize that the most important things I do are the least visible. I can’t tell you how many hymns I’ve sung to my kids as they lay in bed at night waiting for sleep to come, or how many stories I’ve read them over the years. Too many to count. Only my children hear me singing those hymns (and that’s a good thing, trust me!) or reading those stories. For 8 billion people on the planet, those stories and songs are invisible and inaudible. But those stories and songs are far more important than anything I will ever write, even if 8 billion people read my essay, because they are the layers upon layers of love on which my children’s lives are built.

*****

We still have two more months of Ordinary Time before the church year circles to a close. Maybe we could spend it considering the birds:

“They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father….Fear not, you are of more value than many sparrows.”

We may be small as a kinglet, but God’s eye is on us. We go nowhere, do nothing apart from our Father. The small work we do, faithfully, day in and day out, simply because it needs to be done and “happens” to fall onto our paths or into our laps—it is for this ordinary work that God will one day say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” (If you let God quiet you with His love, you might well hear Him whispering those words to you even now.)

Like the kinglet, we wear a crown, given us by our Father who calls us beloved, who adopts us into His family as co-heirs with Christ, who exults over us, small as we are, with loud singing.

///

This is Amy :). Loved the reminder of the book we read last fall!

Next week we start Facing Danger: A Guide Through Risk by Dr Anna E Hampton and will discuss Chapters 1 and 2.

 

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

15 Comments

  1. Amy Young October 2, 2017

    Flit or trudge. Kimberlee, your words this month challenge and orient me back to Jesus. What is the majority of the year? Ordinary time. Where would I rather live? In festival/something extraordinary time. But God uses the ordinary to form us as much (more, if you measure time). We got a finch feeder this summer and I cannot believe how much they eat! And how they fight like siblings to get to the food. And how cute yellow warblers are. And how much I missed them for YEARS . . . all because we did not create a space to feed them. What else am I missing in my life because I am not feeding it/them? Thanks Kimberlee!!

    1. K. C. Ireton October 3, 2017

      You’re not alone in that, Amy; most of us want to live most of the time in the festival/extraordinary. We like mountaintop experiences. The daily can be grinding. It’s why Isaiah 40:31 is such a wonderful promise–“Those who hope in the Lord….will walk and not faint.” Even when we’re walking and walking and walking and wearing out from the walking, if we keep “oriented to Jesus” as you say, God will raise us up on wings like eagles. (And I’m so glad you’re discovering birds outside your window!)

  2. Dorette October 3, 2017

    I loved this, your words “except being where I was and happening to look up at the right moment” somehow stuck with me.. I think sometimes I forget to look up.. and it will sure help! Also, thank you for the reminder that we are seen and loved and that He is singing over us (I needed that today).

    1. K. C. Ireton October 3, 2017

      Dear Dorette, I forget to look up, too! I’m less forgetful than I used to be, but I still have a lot of growing to do in this area of actually showing up in my life and paying attention. I pray that you have a chance to sit for a bit today and simply soak in the truth that God sees you, loves you, and delights in you.

  3. Elizabeth October 3, 2017

    There’s a lot of important truth here today, truths we struggle to believe sometimes.

    The words of Jesus in Matthew 6 have long been a rock for me. This month I had need of them again. As I read them over and over and wrote them in my journal again, I had trouble believing them, even though I know they are true. Does God really care about the small things of my life, the things I worry over? Sometimes it’s hard to take Him at His word. Does he care about these things more than I do (which happens to be quite a lot)? And will He really provide my needs like He promises??

    Most of what I do are the ordinary, daily tasks of motherhood and homemaking.These tasks are the same everywhere, and people everywhere must do them. I have been reading about monastic communities (through Kathleen Norris), and one thing that has struck me is how ordinary their lives are, too. I have tended to thing of monastic communities as being super holy, praying all day long. This cannot in fact be true; someone must always cook and someone must always clean. These are the things that take up much of people’s days, no matter where they live. I think it is hard on women who move overseas with big dreams; someone still has to clean the kitchen and hang the laundry. That is NOT what most people dream of when they dream of leaving their home in order to change the world. And yet these things must be done. It is all very, very ordinary. I sometimes struggle to believe those small things have value, even though I know it’s true. But I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that.

    And I love that verse in Zephaniah 🙂

    1. K. C. Ireton October 3, 2017

      Dear Elizabeth, have you read In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden? If not, you might want to find a copy. It’s about a women’s monastery in the mid-20th century, and it’s one of my favorite books. They do pray a lot, but they also have a lot of other work to do that taxes them and seems to be a distraction, but it’s in submitting to this work as well as to the Opus Dei (the singing of the hours; literally “the work of God”) that they grow and mature. Also, singing the hours seven times a day seven days a week for years on end…starts to feel somewhat tedious. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. Know that as I do my own small work, I am praying for you as you do yours, that God will meet you among the pots and pans and laundry, and that believing those things are important and valuable will come more easily.

      1. Elizabeth October 4, 2017

        I haven’t read that book, though I’ve heard it highly recommended by someone else as well. It was on my “to read sometime . . . whenever I find the time” list. I will make sure to take a closer look now that you have also recommended it!

        1. K. C. Ireton October 6, 2017

          When you read it, do let me know. I’m always looking for people with whom to talk about it! 🙂

  4. Jody Collins October 3, 2017

    I loved these bird-y reflections Kimberlee, particularly the reminder that the small, unseen, ordinary gifts of our time and energy towards others is a very great thing. (And yes, I remembered the reading of “Consider the Birds” from last year, Amy.I’m so glad you told us about that book.)

    1. K. C. Ireton October 3, 2017

      I thought of you, Jody, as I was writing this piece, because you are one of my bird people, as well as one of my Jesus people. 🙂

  5. Kimberly Todd October 3, 2017

    Kimberlee, I love this – your descriptions of the birds, the trees, the daily rhythms that can become sacred rituals if we will only let them. You turn a phrase so that I can see through the center to the substance, and it affirms those secret, slow, small movements in my soul and my life that turn out to be the weight of glory.

    1. K. C. Ireton October 3, 2017

      Oh my goodness, Kimberly. Thank you. These are words of commendation I will treasure in my heart.

  6. June October 4, 2017

    The birds and all of God’s creation can teach us so much – if we’re paying attention. How blessed your children are, Kimberlee, to have your presence. The same is true for us and our God. I’m relatively new to the church calendar but it seems to me that ordinary time encourages us to focus on what Jesus did during His short time walking this earth. Nothing ordinary about that! There is nothing ordinary about any life lived on this earth when it’s lived for Him. Your words bless me, as always, friend.

    1. K. C. Ireton October 6, 2017

      Dear June, You are exactly right: there is nothing ordinary about any life lived on this earth when It’s live for Christ.Thank you for these good words!

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