(Posted May 6, 2020)
Most people who know me realize that I’m a bird lover. It comes from growing up as the only surviving child in our household, in a neighborhood devoid of kids but filled with elders. It also comes from growing up in Syracuse, where the only way for a child without other children around to keep herself busy was to study nature.
I first became fascinated with birds when I was around seven. I would watch all sorts of birds for hours. I even had a beloved, feisty pet parakeet, Perky, who taught me a thing or two about her species.
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Where Did Perky Go?
But then there was an incident that made me wonder if these winged creatures were more tuned into God’s directives than we were. On a very cold Saturday in March, my father decided to wash the windows, without checking first that my pet bird was secure in her cage. Perky flew out the window. My parents immediately assumed that the bird was as good as dead since March evenings in Syracuse can easily drop into the teens.
When Perky had been gone three days that prediction seemed to be a sure thing. But being a convent schoolgirl raised in a Franciscan faith, I just started praying for Francis to intervene. I know it broke my mother’s heart to walk by my room and see me kneeling and praying for the sure return of Perky. But true to a mother’s intuition, she did not step in and crush my faith by speaking what she thought to be true.
What was actually going on is that, at a distance, my prayers were being answered. Mom had put a Lost ad in the paper. Five frigid days after the bird’s escape the phone rang – a woman six miles away from us told my mother that her mailman had brought her a pretty blue bird perched on his shoulders, and it flew right into her house, to a cage where her male parakeet was.
The rest of the story was pretty astounding. It seems that the mailman was walking along his route on a busy highway when he looked down and saw a bird walking. The minute she saw him she flew up on his shoulder. The mailman knew the woman with a parakeet, and he brought Perky to her.
This woman hadn’t seen my mother’s lost ad at first, but a neighbor brought the ad to her. The woman added, “oh… and she kicked my shy male bird out of the cage.” When my mother told me what had happened, I said, “well, of course we’re getting Perky back. I asked St. Francis to bring her back.” This is the depth of a child’s faith in God.
Signs That Come to Us on Wings
In an era where so many of us are grieving a loss, whether it is a loved one, a relationship, our health or especially our faith that God is present in our lives, we need a sign. For a number of us, Mother’s Day can move that sense of loss to the forefront.
But perhaps we need to call on God to give us a winged sign.
According to a number of people I know, whenever a red cardinal suddenly appears near them, they have a sense that one who they love and miss has just given them God’s assurance that they are enfolded in divine love.
This Sunday we will talk about signs… and hope, and faith, and wonder – about the ways people can be unexpectedly brought together to bring light once again into our world.