Don't play with dead birds; they leave scars

I recently came across some free writing I had done in preparation for a poem I have yet to finish. It was about a dead bird I had seen, laying on a busy sidewalk. Some of the phrases and images are good, but there isn't a cohesive thought behind the poem yet. Mostly because I'm not clear how I feel about the idea of God and the sparrow. You know the sparrow I'm talking about:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I've always had trouble with the idea that God is taking care of all of us, down to the smallest of us. Sparrows freeze to death, get hunted for sport by well-fed housecats, get hit by cars. Surely if each individual sparrow mattered, they wouldn't be prone to senseless deaths. Never mind the meaningless suffering of people around the world from poverty, hunger, war, etc. Why doesn't God care enough to stop suffering?

But the verses that it is based on, Matthew 10:29-31, don't say that the sparrow will come to no harm. It says that if the sparrow comes to harm, it is through the Father. Not only did God know about that dead bird on the sidewalk in front of Moody's Falafel Palace, he let it die. That seems even more callus than not knowing/caring about the fate of the sparrow.

The important lesson for me isn't around the symbolism of the dead bird. It's all about I value judgment I made a couple paragraphs back. I decided that the sparrow's death was senseless or meaningless. And I don't get to decide things like that. Just a few verses earlier in Matthew 10 we are told that "there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed" or "hid that shall not be known". We are reminded not to fear anyone other than the Lord. If something bad happens, God knows why.

If we are suffering and we can find no reason why He should let us suffer, we should not curse Him, nor doubt Him. He's got a plan. He's keeping an eye on us and it'll all make sense later. I can get so caught up in myself and my sense of what is fair that I forget that "the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Corinthians 1:25).

I'm feeling pretty weak and foolish right now, so it's comforting to know that He's got His eye on me and that I don't need to understand anything else right now.

Elizabeth Bathurst


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

When I was in my late teens and very early twenties, I would sometimes lie awake for hours at night, paralyzed by alarm at the thought that death would extinguish my self.

We are taught, by the world and by our hormones, that death is an end. That, I now believe, was where my midnight paralyses came from.

But that is simply conditioning, by the world and by our hormones. It is not necessarily the truth. Our hormones don't necessarily tell us the truth, and neither does the world.

What if death is not an end, but simply a major transition?

How can we possibly know that it is not? We lack the physical equipment to see what the inmost being of a living creature actually is, let alone what happens to it when the body perishes. We don't know whether it is perishable or not. All our ideas about what happens to it -- good and bad -- are speculative.

I won't claim that I know the answers with certainty. But from a life of inward communion with God, I am now at a point where I greatly doubt that, from God's perspective, the death of the sparrow was a tragedy. I sense that, from His perspective, it was rather a gathering-in to Himself.

What my experience of the Spirit teaches me is that, to the extent that we know God, to Whom we will be gathered in, by direct experience of Him (Her, It), to that extent death loses its terror, because we know what we're going to.

I do not intend by this to excuse the suffering in the world. But I think it wouldn't hurt to distinguish, as a second step, between the suffering that is unavoidable, and the unnecessary suffering caused by human misbehavior. Can the latter truly be blamed on God instead of on ourselves?

Here we are getting into the knotty issues of theodicy (God's justice / God's justness), which every person of integrity has to work through for her- or himself --

RichardM said...

I saw a dead racoon on 14th St on my way to work this week and it prompted a similar reflection--as similar sights have prompted many times over my 55 years. The thought can be summarized succinctly as: the world is screwed up.

This insight is pretty universal. In Buddhism it is the first of the four noble truths: Life is suffering. In the Christian tradition it is expressed mythically as the story of a gal and a guy who eat some fruit they are not supposed to touch. People of faith, whether in the East Asian or the Western tradition look at this messed up world and say that it is only a part of much bigger world that is not messed up.

Both Christian and Buddhist say that the fault lies deep within ourselves--Christians talk about sin and Buddhists about desire--and tell us that while the problem runs very deep that there is a way out. Buddhists will talk about the eightfold path and Christians about being born again through faith.

I have always thought that there were many religious people who just parrot these words meaninglessly but some who do not. Those for whom these words have meaning have gone within and confronted the darkness there and then found Light too.

But spiritual experience is not so clear and distinct that we can give sharply defined meaning to terms like "redemption" or "the kingdom of heaven." The words remain pretty hazy for us all. (Well, maybe not for some but I don't think I've every met anyone for whom they aren't hazy.)

We see just a tiny fraction of the reality of the sparrow's existence. We should not fall for the illusion that what we see is the sum total of all that is. We certainly don't see the rest of the sparrow's being but that doesn't mean it is unreal.

forrest said...

This seems based largely on "outward" view of God and the sparrow.

Another take might have God being a sparrow one day (among other things) and while he was getting off on performing these great loop-de-loops down around ground level, God (in the form of a pussycat) saw a marvelous opportunity in the form of this wigged out sparrow and went "Pounce! Chomp! Munch and devour! Delicious!" Whereupon this little sparrow-ghost shook itself and said, "That was fun. Tomorrow, maybe I'll be a tiger!"