Bullies, Beatitudes, and Birds
Bullies, Beatitudes, and Birds
By Jane Tawel
August 24, 2020
Since I have put a bird feeder outside my “reading window”, I can now spend my early mornings looking down at my book, looking up at the birds — down, up; down, up; down, up. Come to think of it, I look a bit like a bird, with a head full of grey feathery hair atop my long scrawny neck, bobbing up and down as if pecking among the philosophies and fictions strewn across my table; and looking up at the birds — down, up, down up. I am like the scout-bird who is often a part of a small group of birds; the one that sits not at the trough of seeds but up on the top of the post, or in a nearby tree branch, the guard-dog of the others, (to mix animal metaphors). I sit with my pack of people imagined and real in books and pictures and thoughts and memories, and my own life-flock is with me in spirit, if not in truth. And I guard them, both in my memories of feeding them, and their continual feeding of me.
I like to see the little red-breasted, red-throated birds, who might be robins or finches but might be neither since, even though my daughter, Verity and my dear friend Heather, have tried to teach me and help me, I remain blissfully ignorant of types and names. The birds in the air swoop in and peck in their persnickety ways among the feeder’s offerings. I love the cool, grey pigeons — so seemingly unremarkable compared to the others. The pigeons are the sheep of birds, quietly feeding on the seed that has fallen to the ground. They may not be flashy or particularly bright, perhaps being two feathers short of a quiver, but they calm me and I feel my divine pathos rise up to surround them with thoughts of hope for their protection and delight in their innocence.
There is often one little sparrow — at least I think it’s the same one. I least I think it’s a sparrow. I watch the birds — I am not a bird watcher, a birder. I actually mostly don’t want to know anything about them — their names or anything like that. I just want to observe them. To be with them, apart, but a part, similar in cellular makeup, but oh! So very different! If there is anything that can assure me in the dark hours before the Sun rises, that there is a Loving Creator who somehow spoke into being, our planet Earth and all of the awe-some-ly unique creatures that roam it — for me, a belief in a Creative God is stronger, now that it has happened to be that I have time to sit and quietly watch the curious qualities of “birdness”.
So back to this one little sparrow. The minute he comes he pushes or scares the other birds away. He is a horrible bully and I feel so sad for the little birds that he scares from their places at the bird feeder as they fly away in fear and shame, while the bully bird takes their place. Notice I assume a male dominance factor going on here, but the bird could easily be female. Remember, I don’t want to know. It is unimportant to me. With the birds, I am able to do what I seldom can with people. I can judge the behavior without judging the character.
This sparrow, let’s call him / her a non-gendered name, shall we? This sparrow I will call “Jody” is a true bully. There isn’t a morning when Jody does not feel that no matter how much room there is, no matter how peacefully all the other little birds are getting along with each other, no matter what side of the nest Jody woke up on that morning — there is not one single morning when Jody does not immediately swoop in to bully the other birdies. He doesn’t stop to assess the situation. He doesn’t offer a deal or make some small talk. Jody doesn’t wait for the other birds to strike first or snap at him with some unpleasantry. She just hops on the feeder, flaps her quite normal-sized and frankly, rather drab colored wings, and chases away whoever got there before her that day. And if one of the others tries to sneak back on the other side of the feeder to finish its breakfast, Jody leaves her spot and chases the interloper off again. Don’t try to make excuses for Jody. This has nothing to do with being a “leader” or a “chosen and favored one” (Jody is nothing special, being a bird just like other birds). Her behavior must not be excused with some silly idea about it being evolution or natural selection. I am sorry, but it must simply be accepted — Jody is just a bully.
And I feel like sneaking up one morning on Jody when he’s at the bird feeder, his attention somewhere over his birdy shoulder looking for perceived enemy/victims; and I feel like grabbing Jody up in my gigantic godlike paw and holding Jody powerfully in my right hand and saying,
“Jody, my birdy-pal, my darling, I, the God Who Peers Through the Window, She who observes the Sun rising, and the deeds of all birds; I, Who have watched you each morning of your miserable little birdy-life; I, the Goddess who gives the birdseed to nourish the good and the evil birdies — and who cares for even the naughty, cheeky squirrels, for Heaven’s sake! I forbid you, small wee Jody, to keep bullying the other birds. Fly now, away with you — you are forgiven but Sin No More!”
And then, because I can’t kiss Jody on his little beak or hold her little foot as I would a naughty child’s small hand, I will stroke Jody on the head and assure her, and assure the whole little flock that now has come to see me deal with Jody– a flock of all kinds and colors, genders and abilities of birds — a multitude of birds that has by now gathered at my Godlike feet, stunned into birdy awe at my great supernatural appearance, and who are all bobbing their little birdy heads as they listen to my righteous message. And I will say to the flock that, foolish though they be, are my own, and are all those whom I have come to love and care for, even Jody:
“There is plenty. There will always be plenty for all in My Kingdom. Do you not know, that I can take these small seeds that I hold now in my hand, and I can turn them into a Costco sized bag of food to feed you? There is room at the bird feeder for all, for the pigeons and sparrows, for the meek and the red-breasted, for the shy and the brave, for the protectors and the children and for those who sing like angels, and yes –there is even room for the Jodies. There is scattered seed on the ground for those who must scratch in the earth to get their daily meal. And there is seed in the feeder for all that I watch over from my own perch, behind the window.
Do not worry, little flock of beloved birds. Do you think by worrying you can add one feather to your head? Do not worry, Bully Jody. Do you think by bullying you can add one hour to your life? Be peaceful in your bird-brains, and at peace with each other. If God can care and provide for both the good and also the naughty humans, how much more will He care and provide for you, the birds? Yea, even for the Jodies.”
I think Jesus observed birds often and knew them well. He used them as illustration and metaphor quite often, along with ones about seeds and grain. Maybe every morning, he woke up and read the Torah and had some pita bread, maybe throwing the crumbs out onto the ground to share with the birds. I like to picture him quiet before the world woke up, meditating prayerfully, reading and learning from the words on the scroll, and then looking up at the sparrows eating his crumbs and the grey pigeons pecking at the seeds in the fields. I imagine The Great Teacher and Miracle Worker in the early hours of the mornings before the hungry, needy multitudes gathered and the crowds and his friends and followers, who would swoop in, full of need, full of chatter, full of fears and hopes, and with broken wings and bent tail feathers they wanted fixing. A flock of followers who just as I do, just as you do, keep searching for something to feed us body, mind and soul, but miss the common, ordinary miracles of life and our planet and the miracles of other humans. We miss the miracle of seeds. And so we have rarely seen, that we too can fly.
The miracle that real food and spiritual food are always available is what Jesus tried to show the people; the reality that there is plenty and that no one needs to take more seed than what they need that day, because tomorrow, there will be more seed. That is the miracle of the seed.
Good birds will share space and seed; but even bullies could have much more than they could ever dream of, if only they would just ask. If we would only look around, and scoot over to give more room to others, and enjoy the seed set before us in just this moment, why then — those everyday miracles would become common place. Most people came to Jesus looking for a handout, anxious to fill their stomachs. But Jesus offered them what he knew they really wanted, which was the bread, the manna of his life that gives us life, and the “living water that will make us thirst no more”. Many came to the one they called Messiah, Rabbi, Lord, looking for an edge, a way to rise above the hungry, dirty masses and be better than their neighbors, richer than their enemies, more favored than those who were different than they; and to have Jesus do the heavy lifting but grant them a ticket cheaply bought to a better, far off heavenly place, a new, select feeder made just for them and not for the crows and ravens, those they considered scavengers, or the weak and meek, those they considered worthy only of what we in our pride and greed, had made of this filthy, untended, sinful world. But what they were really looking for was the beauty that had been forgotten, an earth full of possibility and hope, joy in the journey, and fullness in every moment. What they longed for was not someplace out there, but to finally be truly right here; in a new Garden, a better Kingdom to live in, a world that is this one, but reborn, renewed, recreated, in every glorious breath we take.
Since the beginning, some humans have struggled with the fearful reality that tomorrow the feeder will be empty, and others have hoarded and stored up more than they need, with the despairing anxiety that The Feeder will desert us for good. We are all afraid that that which has held the world together, and The One Who has cared to create us, will leave us on our own, leave the fools and the bullies that we are, in the shadows, in the burnt out husks, in the arid, drought-deadened fields, in the wilderness without Him. So since First Woman and First Man bullied each other into eating from the forbidden fruits of greed and need; and since the manna in the desert wilderness rotted in the storehouses of both the greedy and needy alike, we seekers of seeds and soulfulness, have tried to bully God. We pray without listening, look without observing, take without trusting, and we try to force God into understanding us, rather than the other way around. We whine that our hearts feel empty even when our stomachs are full. And we refuse to believe that we might be able, — even now, even all these years, after the beginning, after the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us — we refuse to believe we might be able to fly.
Many start their mornings and end their evenings at the feeder of thoughts and prayers, yearnings offered up to a God that in truth, we doubt can really care that much for us. After all, if there was a God who loved us, wouldn’t He give us more seeds and crumbs? So some of us bully the weak, and hoard the grain that rots in our storehouses, and we convince ourselves that it is our own power that provides the food in our feeders, and our own abilities that keep us aloft. Some of us choose to believe that there is a God who is as weak as we have let ourselves become, and so we convince ourselves that we need to do nothing but assent to the idea of the existence of a Bird Feeder, and we can let the world turn as it has always done, being only as weak as the God we have fashioned in our image. We worship a God whom we have made in our likeness and so She is either a bully or a weakling, or some days one and some days the other. We keep chirping and squawking, “Why? Why do we have to keep coming daily to the feeder for our sustenance? Why don’t You bless us with something more than manna or crumbs? Why must I share?”.
People came to Jesus and some of them learned that he loved them and that he believed in a Greater Good that also loved them just as any wonderful Mommy and Daddy always love their children, even when those children might be very naughty or unable to fly because of a broken wing. Jesus showed people that there really was Someone behind the window, and that even though the window was so foggy and scratched up and cloudy, you couldn’t really see Who was sitting there, you could sometimes see movement; and you knew that it was The God Behind the Window who each day, provided the seeds for us.
People came to Jesus because they were hungry and wanted to be fed, just as my birds come each morning to my yard to be fed. The people came to The Christ in their foolishness and pride and neediness, and they drained him of power and fought over who got the best and biggest crumbs of divine knowledge and holy interference. We are all people who never quite trust there will be enough of God’s good gifts. But there are seeds strewn throughout the world, freely given, gratefully received, enough for all, created by The Feeder’s righteous hands and shared by those of us who scoot over to make room for more hungry beaks. I think of these people who came to The Christ, people who depleted the Giver, like the hungry birds deplete my feeder full of seeds. I like to think after a long tough day, that Jesus returned to sit by himself, or maybe with one or two other bird-watchers, sharing a bottle of wine and a loaf of bread but not talking much, just sitting together, listening to each other’s breathing, and relaxing, and observing, and very glad to be alive.
I, too, want to follow in the footsteps of those who have left us evidence that they were Masters of Life and Living. I want to rise each morning to learn my lessons and share seeds with the birds, and to let the Great Gurus and the small birds teach me as I look up and down, up and down, up and down. I want to sit in the cool of the evenings somewhere quiet and alone or with those who also watch and wait, and we will end as we begin, by watching the birds.
When I sit watching Jody bully his neighbors, or the pigeons meekly graze, or even those cheeky, naughty squirrels catapulting through the branches or skittering across the yard in their games of tag, I imagine the mornings before the Father’s Sun rose, when Jesus sat alone, but never felt alone. I think of The Man as that one who would suffer all we do and more, much more, and yet who was able to care for the birds; a man perfectly content, happy, mindfully watching and waiting, just a human being, like me, reading, observing, smiling or shaking his head at the foolishness of birds and of men; someone who saw everything for what it truly is, but deeply loved and cared for it all. And I imagine that those were the times that he understood most truly that he had fulfilled his mission for living among us, as he sat with his head bobbing — up and down, up and down, up and down.
I understand a bit more now about my own task in this world and my own joy in the journey of a moment, now that I too, have made the time I always needed but seldom took, to sit and study, and watch and observe, and just be — just be with the goings on about me on this planet, and to be with the birds. I know more about why Jesus, The Teacher, told us the Parable of the Sparrows, because knowing birds a bit better, I am learning that we are all so much less important than we think we are, and we are also so much more loved than we believe we are.
Whether today, you are a struggling pigeon of a person, pecking and hunting for your sustenance. Or you are a Jody — a bully who thinks he has to overpower and overcome others to get ahead, to get more, to get what he deserves, to have the best perch, the most seeds, the top spot, or whatever it is you think you must have. No matter what kind of bird or being you are, remember that there is One Who Makes the Seed; One Who creates and plants and tends; One Who gives each day the Sun and Rain to grow the seeds; and One Who cares as much for you as for the sparrows. Meditate today on The God Who is a Feeding, Watching, Caring Being that even when you can’t see Her, loves you and has provided plenty of food and room at the feeder.
Then we must all try to understand, that the final instructions that Jesus gave before he flew off, were:
“Feed them. In the same way you feed others, you will be fed. Trust in Goodness, and that there is enough for all. In the same way you share seed and give place with others, I will give to you. Now go — and you must not just feed the birds you like, but you must also feed your enemies, the Jodies. I say, unto you, love The Watcher in the Window, and love your neighbors and your enemies just as much as you love yourself. Know that by doing so, you are like Your Heavenly Feeder and Father, whose feeder is full to overflowing, available and free for all of us.”
Remember to look around at the world, to observe the birds of the air, and the beasts of fields, and as you peck and scratch, or you hop and flit from here to there today, be assured —
There is plenty. Take and eat.
© Jane Tawel 2020
The birds at the feeder
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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the unbelieving and faithless who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.~~Jesus as recorded in The Book of Matthew by one of his followers.