A robin has built her nest in a tree on the Church grounds. I found it by accident, as I walked around the property examining some maintenance work that has recently been done on the building. I walked under the tree and suddenly I was being fussed at loudly by mama bird, who fluttered around frantically trying to get my attention. I suppose robins are one of those birds who protect their nest by trying to lead a predator away from it, because that’s what she appeared to be doing. However, I had interrupted feeding time, and the poor baby birds, unaware of the danger, were also tweeting extraordinarily loudly, which is how I located the nest in the branches above me. There they were, clearly visible because they were stretched upward eagerly in the nest with beaks wide open in hopes that a morsel of food would be dropped in them. Mama bird continued to shout out loudly and hop around madly, her panic escalating as I continued to stand there. Not wanting to terrify the poor thing any more – or cause her to abandon the nest altogether – I quickly moved away.
But it was hard for me to stay away. The sight of baby birds in a nest is just rare enough to be exciting and amazing to me. It fills me with wonder. It’s not as if robins are uncommon birds, but I felt like I had been granted the gift of a glimpse of something special. I wanted to go see the baby birds again, but I knew that the best thing I could do for this little bird family was stay away. My presence would scare the mother and could have unknown consequences upon the nest and vulnerable little babies.
I admit that I only managed to hold out for one day. The next day, I went back to the tree just to peek. I would not get too close to the nest, or stay too long. When I got to the tree, the nest was quiet and there was no sign of mother. I felt cold panic clench the pit of my stomach – leaping to the conclusion that I had caused her to abandon the nest after all, and the babies had been eaten. This thought, even briefly, was unbearable. But soon I heard mama bird’s loud, forceful chirping, and saw her perched some distance from the nest. I returned my gaze to the nest and saw one of the babies sound asleep, napping peacefully with its head resting on the rim of the nest. Relief flooded me – the others must also be sleeping down in the nest. The baby was adorable with its little eyes closed, looking so content (and definitely not dead) and had more feathers than I remember seeing on them just the day before.
Then I noticed the nest itself. Some pieces of plastic and paper were woven into the nest, part of its construction. I have often whined about the fact that the Church building is located on a spot with a particular wind pattern that seems to blow every piece of litter in town onto the Church property. The Church grounds are often littered profusely with blown-in trash, and the effort to keep it picked up is a constant hassle and frustration. The plastic and paper woven into this nest had the distinct worn-out look of trash that had been blowing around for awhile before being re-purposed as nesting materials.
I chuckled at the thought of this trash – blown onto the property by the wind, like so many others, which collectively were the source of so much annoyance for me – becoming part of a bird’s nest. I had discovered the nest while dealing with a building maintenance task, walking around the property feeling resentful that I was doing building stuff rather than something holy and priest-like - something having to do with wonder and miracles and beauty and new life and death. But I had glimpsed all of those things in the nest in the tree, and witnessed the ability of nature and God to use unlikely things and unlikely circumstances to create something new and good. This thing which was a constant problem from a grounds-maintenance perspective – the blown-in trash - had become part of the bird’s precious building, her family’s home and sanctuary, their place of safety and rest. The Kingdom of God is like … the parable right there before my eyes. I thought about how in God, even that which is messy, undesirable and unsightly gets transformed in the new life of God, becomes a part of re-birth. The trash was sheltering the baby birds. In God, all things are being made new, becoming part of a new creation – even that which we dislike and try to keep off the tidy grounds of our lives.
I will continue to wish that trash from all over town did not blow onto Church property with such annoying regularity. You may still hear me in the near future, cursing the strange wind pattern that causes this to happen so often. But I will remember about the trash in the nest, because it is a reminder that even building maintenance carries the possibility for a wondrous discovery, a moment to be awed by creation and beauty and God, and how even that which is upsetting and undesirable is transformed by God for the purposes of new life. However, I will not go peek at the nest again. Just remembering that instant when I thought the babies had perished is enough to keep me away now, so as to cause no danger. I will leave the mother robin and her babies at peace, and trust that God has some other little miracle to show me in a situation where I am least expecting it.
The Rev. Amanda K. Gott
Grace & St. Peter's Episcopal Church
Original image from: www.pinterest.com/khdamselfly/