Redbirds and Resurrection
“Not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).
I’ve been enamored with cardinals since childhood. With their fire engine red body, jet black face and eyes, and orange beak the word that comes to mind to describe them is “regal”. The Amazin’ Mets of the ’60’s were my team but whenever the St. Louis Cardinals were on TV I pulled for them because they had the coolest uniforms – two cardinals perched on opposite ends of a baseball bat. I secretly had this desire to walk up to one of them and actually hold it in my hands but knew that could never happen because no bird would ever let a human get so close.
In 1994 I believed that the Lord was calling me to go to seminary and become an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. So I began what’s called “the ordination discernment process” – three years of meeting with peers, ordained leaders, internships, to articulate an answer to the question “Why ordained ministry and not something else?” Three years is a long time but the decision to leave behind life as you and your family have come to know it is a big one. About a year into the process I quit. Like Moses at the burning bush I knew I was standing on holy ground but presented to God a laundry list of reasons why He had made a poor choice for a priest. At the time I thought that to be a priest you had to like to be the center of attention, play golf, tell funny jokes, and tell people what to do. I told Him and begged Him to let me serve him any other way but that one. But all I heard in response was silence. Running from God can make you too tired to keep going and too afraid to stop. Over time, feelings of guilt and fear grew. I began to dread the day I would meet God and have to answer for my cowardice and deal with the consequences of rejecting His will. It was during this time that the Lord used a cardinal to bring me back into His will and to teach me that His will is never separated from His love.
One Saturday morning I went to the church office where my family attended church to use the printer. I needed to make copies of a handout for a Passover Seder dinner I was going to lead in a few days at the church. Holy Week was approaching. The days when Jesus went to Jerusalem and died on the cross for our sins. All of a sudden I heard a loud crash against the floor-to-ceiling windows in the parish hall right outside the office. I immediately thought that one of the skateboarding kids I had seen in the church parking when I came in that morning had lost control of his skateboard and crashed into one of the windows. I rushed out of the office to catch the perpetrator before he ran off and to look over the damage but the parking lot was empty and the windows weren’t damaged. There was no one around and as I was about to head back inside I saw lying on the ground at the base of the windows a male and female cardinal that had crashed into the glass. At first glance I thought they were dead but they were still alive. I went back inside to call someone who might know what to do to help them but when I picked up the telephone receiver I heard a voice not my own say, “You help them.” I found a piece of cardboard, hurried back outside, knelt down by the female and slid the cardboard under her not sure what to do next. When I slowly raised her up she immediately took off and flew away into a hedge of bushes.
I went over to the male and he looked more seriously wounded. He was lying on his side and his chest was heaving up and down as he gasped for breath. Images of Jesus – regal and innocent sufferer – hanging on a cross on Good Friday filled my mind. I slowly raised the cardboard and gently turned him so he was no longer on his side. We were face to face. His eyes blinked calmly and stared straight into mine. He allowed me to stroke the feathers on his back and near his face with my finger tip. It occurred to me in that moment that God had granted me a desire of my heart from childhood to hold one of these redbirds in my hands. It was as if He was saying “OK, what more can I do to prove to you that I love you and you can trust me?”
I felt my heart that had grown cold since I quit the discernment process months before and insisted on going my own way begin to thaw. I was drawn back to the love of God that drew me to Him in the first place. Like the Prodigal Son “who came to his senses” and realized he needed to go home I knew that it was better to walk with God wherever He asks us to go and do whatever he asks us to do than to run from Him and go it alone. We don’t know what the future holds but we do know who holds the future. And then the cardinal flew off to find his mate. And I went home to tell my wife, Stephanie, what God had just done. And we decided to get back into the discernment process to follow the Lord wherever He might lead us.