By Elizabeth Head Black
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father.
And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.
So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Recently a small Mexican dove flew into my kitchen window, landing dazed on the patio just outside the kitchen door. It lay there completely still. Not fluttering around, not flapping and floundering in despair. Quiet, motionless, and apparently in shock. I watched it carefully from inside the window, still drying a kitchen glass with a towel. It was soft, puddle-brown, accented with white and charcoal-gray markings. I studied its eyes, which were open but fixed, and its slender, leathery claws tucked neatly under its downy breast. A few loose feathers, undoubtedly jarred by the collision, lay on the doormat. I wondered what to do with this fragile, delicate creature.
I wasn’t the only one studying the specimen. Lurking in the shadows of the potted geraniums was my own furtive feline, a well-seasoned hunter of birds much smaller and larger than this. Her tail twitched rhythmically, signaling a strategic assault was about to be launched. I had a decision to make. It only took a second to know I could not watch the assault in broad daylight, and I had a role to play. Slowly I approached the bird. It did not waver.
I can’t remember the last time I picked up a live bird in my hand. With two gentle hands, I scooped it up. It did not flap a wing. It was soft like silk in my touch, which was just firm enough to provide a framework, but loose enough not to bruise or wound it in any way. I could feel its heart pounding against my fingers.
Compelled to help, I surveyed the landscape. Where could I set it and provide a discreet place for it to recuperate, safe from the feline? Not on a tree branch, nor tucked in the thicket of bushes. Neither on the porch railing, nor the brim of the bird feeder. All were within reach and scope of the cat. And she was indeed watching. I needed something she was unlikely to scale, something high and protected. Then I saw it. The breaker box on the side of the house under the carport. It was a protected ledge out of sight from the cat, high off the ground, too small for the cat but ample size for the bird to rest, against a wall, in the warm sunlight, with ready clearance when the bird was ready for flight again. So there I laid it.
It perched there, motionless, resting, waiting for what seemed a long time. I resumed drying the dishes, but returned periodically to the sunlit ledge, checking on my precious “little one.” Its eyes were closed now. I wondered if it were more seriously injured than I thought. Had it wounded its wing or its head, or was it just enjoying the morning sun? I was very happy with this little haven I had found for a refugee. There was a palpable peace in this small window of time. I just stood and watched. And then like any child, I wanted to touch. I reached out my hand ever so gingerly, just to stroke the silky, milky-brown feathers one more time, and whoosh… off it flew in a powerful flurry. It sailed with precision under the carport and ascended to the highest branch in the neighboring yard. No good-byes. Just strength and beauty operating in full capacity again. My little sparrow, my little dove.
The immediate and abrupt halt the last few weeks have brought to all our pursuits and pass-times feels uncomfortably like the episode between my dove and the kitchen window. It has left us feeling a little stunned by our circumstances. With much of our regular routines and responsibilities shelved, if not eliminated, it is easy to feel superfluous, if not entirely expendable. Will our jobs still be there for us? Will our industries? Our life savings? Maybe hitting the wall feels more like one of those unfortunate sparrows that actually hits the ground.
“Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. “Not one of them falls to the ground apart from the will of the Father.” Nothing happens even to the most insignificant of creatures without his knowledge. So it is true for us. If we believe that God is completely sovereign in the universe, then He is sovereign over the events of our lives. In fact, Jesus says he’s been given all authority over our lives (John 17:2). So there is nothing that can happen to us that escapes his notice or his reach.
So do not be afraid. “You are worth more than many sparrows.” Even if a sparrow can fall to the ground, we cannot. Jesus, who is in complete command, says that we cannot fall out of his hands. Indeed none can be snatched out of his hand, not by plan or happenstance or persuasion (John 10:28). In fact the more I reflect, the more I wonder if, rather than falling out of God’s hands, we have more aptly fallen into his hands. Like my dove, the sudden collision has not thrust us out of God’s hold but more firmly into it. We are right where we need to be.
What is this time and place, this sunlit ledge, where He has brought us for rest and restoration? As we wait with stilled hearts, his strength becomes ours, his vigor our vision, and we recognize more clearly the movement of God’s hand. Flight is coming, and we will be ready to soar. So do not be afraid, we have not fallen from his hand, we have been brought to his altar.
“Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young –
a place near your altar.”
“Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will grow tired or weary,
his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary,
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who wait for the Lord
shall renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
“If the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm,
though he stumble, he will not fall,
the Lord upholds him with his hand.”
Elizabeth Head Black lives in Corpus Christi, Texas, where her husband, The Rev. Milton E. Black, is rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd. She is the author of Hand in Hand: Walking with the Psalms through Loneliness (Bright Sky Press, 2015), and blogs at The Daily Bread.