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There is a large courtyard in the building where I live. It plays an important role in my self-balancing to deal with the day ahead.
I wake up, meditate, get dressed, grab a coffee and go to sit in the courtyard – there is an overhang of the second floor so there’s protection from the rain.
My courtyard experience always starts with Gratitude. When I sit down of a morning, my thoughts turn to all the things I am grateful for, from evenness of spirit to beloved friends.
Second comes a visit, not from something majestic or mighty but from the lowly, common sparrow.
"Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." ---Matthew 10:29-31
Sparrows are sprightly birds, quick and attentive.
I have created a position that when I see a sparrow it’s going to be a good day. Look at them, going about their business, hopping and bopping, cocking their heads this way and that; in camouflage colours of gray and brown, when they explore around the woody branches they are visible only by their movement. And then they fly, quickly, to the hedge or the two Japanese upright maples. This being a chosen sign for me, I do not have the opposite idea – that if I don’t see a sparrow it’s not a good day. I just miss them when they don’t show up.
With sparrows, of course, it’s chirping.
The experts say there are five main reasons birds sing: to warn of a threat; to cry for help (especially babies); for mating; to identify location; and marking territory.
I don’t believe those account for all the sparrows’ song that I hear. This is now six or eight years of observation for me. The thing is, they chirp and chirp and chirp, sometimes the whole time they are here. Sometimes two sparrows, each in their own maple, will carry on a long call and response. Perhaps that’s about mating.
“It's impossible to explain creativity. It's like asking a bird, 'How do you fly?' You just do.” ---Eric Jerome Dickey
Sometimes it’s just one, or two. One day in Spring we had a gathering of some 20 of them all over the courtyard. Then, as if of one mind, they all flew away in a flurry.
There was an expression that survived for generations, berating people for being “birdbrains”. Meaning not the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
Science now reveals that birds have significantly more brain activity than humans.
It’s not surprising when you consider all the calculation involved in flight, for example. Birds sometimes crash into windows, otherwise I don’t see birds making a lot of mistakes as they undertake very complex navigation. We’re right in the heart of the city, trees and poles and wires everywhere, yet a sparrow will zoom in from yards away straight to a spot in our bushes that looks like a good perch for feeding.
“Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark.” ---Rabindranath Tagore
Yes, we project human feelings and thoughts on many animals, notably pets. This is also true frequently with birds.
We equate their flying with feelings of freedom.
We equate their song with joy.
“The sparrow that is twittering on the edge of my balcony is calling up to me this moment a world of memories that reach over half my lifetime, and a world of hope that stretches farther than any flight of sparrows.” ---Donald G. Mitchell
One of the most celebrated songs of the last Century takes the words from Matthew into real-life experience.
The song’s verse goes: “I sing because I’m happy/ I sing because I’m free…His eye is on the sparrow/And I know His eye’s on me.”
It has been sung by Mahalia Jackson and Ethel Waters – and Whitney Houston.
It is a classic, and it’s a salve and encouragement, like “Amazing Grace”.
I find it soothes my soul and reminds me to get down to business, some serious, some lighthearted as flight, like the sparrows who greet each day with song. The sparrow is Life expressing itself in one of its uncountable, lovely forms – not unlike us.
You can find this inspiring nourishment, with the full story of the song and a 10 year old and a 12 year old singing it with uncannily deep expression, at this address:
I guarantee your heart will be moved, your faith refreshed.