Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Worry Bird

Matthew 6:25-33

Once upon a time there was a bird. A worry-bird, who lived in a magical kingdom called Illinois. The worry bird was dressed all in black, with patches of scarlet on her shoulders that shone in the July sunshine. The worry bird lived in a nest she had built all by herself, out of last years grass and the mud from a thunderstorm that had come in the spring, right in the middle of a field of grass and wildflowers and weeds. The worry bird had everything she needed in life, except for one thing: she did not have enough.
Every morning, the worry-bird woke before dawn and rose from her nest to pick clover seeds and Johnson grass kernels and the tiny black middles of spent thistle flowers. Every morning she worried that today; there might not be enough to eat. If only her field were bigger, then she would be sure to have enough. Sometimes she stopped for a moment to preen her shiny black feathers or she squatted beside a puddle and stretched her neck to let little sips or rainwater run down her throat. Each time, she worried that tomorrow the puddle might be dried up and the rains might not come and there wouldn’t be enough water to slake her thirst. Her worried rest stop could not last long because soon she must be on her way. For she was a bird upon whom depended not only her own life, but also the lives of three little fuzzy chicks. Their mouths were always open and they greeted her hungrily each time she returned to the nest. She worried about what would happen to them if anything happened to her. Or even if nothing happened to her, still she had worries.
The worry bird worked very hard. And her work was a burden; because she always worried that she was not doing enough. The worry bird had a little hidden stash of grain, piled away in a place only she knew about, so that she wouldn’t run out unexpectedly. And the stash was a worry; because it wasn’t big enough, or well hidden enough to really make her feel secure. The worry bird had her little family. And her family was a burden to her, because she worried about them. The worry bird had neighbors in her field – some other blackbirds, a meadowlark, a family of mice and a skunk. And her neighbors were a burden to her because of course she worried that they would get to the seeds and the water, and her babies before she could. The sun shone and the rains of summer came and went. And every perfect day was a burden to our heroine, because she worried, knowing that each one brought her one-day closer to winter and the cold and the long trip she must make south. What worries she had!
And if the food and the water and the family and the neighbors and the weather weren’t enough to worry about – she had the TV, which she had bought to help her forget her worries.
But, alas! The TV only seemed to make her worries worse. She saw on TV that there was a mop that you could buy that would clean up all your messes, wet or dry, and she worried that her nest was not clean enough.
She saw on TV that some birds lived in fine birdhouses, with copper roofs to shield them from the rain, and sunflowers painted around the doorway and a perch made out of a shiny metal key. And she worried that her nest was too plain and too open to the sky. Some birds ate at bird feeders, and bathed in birdbaths. “What I wouldn’t give to splash around in one of those!” she thought.
She saw on TV birds that wore jewel colored feathers, and she worried that her black feathers were not pretty enough. “I’d be satisfied,” she told herself, “if only I had some blue feathers, or some yellow plumage, and a longer tail and yellow eyes and a red crown upon my head. Just a little flash of purple. That would be enough.”
She learned on TV that proper nutrition was essential to good health, and that if someone didn’t get enough vitamins, terrible things could happen. She worried since she didn’t take a scientifically compounded multi-vitamin formula her feathers wouldn’t be numerous enough, her eyes wouldn’t be sharp enough and her beak wouldn’t be strong enough. And how could she be sure that she got the right combination of high and low density lipids for maximum performance of skin and nerve tissue?
She worried because there were so many things out there in the world, and she didn’t have enough of them. She didn’t have that nifty Ronco seed processor that made meal preparation a snap. She didn’t have the “gazelle” exerciser to tame middle age bulges. She didn’t even have a single tube of feather gloss, to make her wings shiny and sexy. She had so little. Really. It wasn’t enough.

Numbers flashed across the TV screen. If only she had a telephone. And fingers. She would dial up and get those things that would satisfy her and assure her that her life was plenty full. But she didn’t have a phone. Not even a land line, much less one of those wonderful picture taking cell phones that every teenager on TV carried around in their pocket because their parents knew they needed it. What about what she needed? Huh? Who was looking out for that? Who would make sure she had enough?
Every night, when the worry bird tucked her little black head beneath her little black wing, her eyes were wide open with anxiety and fear and she worried the night away.
How can I make sure I have enough for tomorrow? For next season? For next year?
How can I make sure my children are smart enough, brave enough, big enough, athletic enough, polite enough, and moral enough?
How can I get healthy enough?
How can I live well enough, long enough to be happy enough that I am alive?
The worry bird tossed and turned every night, till she tossed and turned her babies right out of the nest. And then she worried even more.
One afternoon, as she flitted around the field, worrying, she noticed that the sky was growing quite dark. A line of clouds, pewter-colored and heavy with rain, marched across the afternoon from the west. The slice of blue sky in the east grew smaller and smaller and lightening, at first far away, but getting nearer and nearer, pierced the gloom and struck the earth with explosive concussive thunders. The worry bird flew back to her nest, closed all the windows and turned on the TV to see the “W” in the corner of the screen. Huge drops of rain began to plop into the dust of the field and gusts of wind bent the tall grass around the worry bird’s nest. The clouds to the south of her took on a greenish hue and the worry bird watched in horror as a finger of cloud reached down and traced a serpentine path across the prairie right to her nest.
It picked her up in a whirl of water and roaring dust and spun her higher and higher. At first she closed her eyes, but as she ascended toward the clouds, she opened first one and then the other and looked around at the awesome sights opening before her.
She saw around her clouds full of rain – enough rain to fill a million puddles.
She looked below her and saw fields of grass and grain that extended seemingly forever – enough seeds to feed her forever.
She watched as one, just one, of her glossy black feathers drifted down through the center of the cloud – beautiful enough to be mistaken for a shard of polished ebony.
The worry bird knew that the storm would surely kill her. Yet, strangely, she noticed that she was not particularly worried about that. The moment of life that she had seemed enough. She didn’t fret - her little brain was entirely occupied with wonder.
The world was so much bigger than she had imagined. The sky was so much more beautiful than she had dreamed. Her life was so much more precious than she ever knew. And even the storm had at its heart something that felt like love.
And then, her heart pounding but peaceful, she felt the whirlwind release her. Her nest fell away, and she spread her wings on a suddenly gentle breeze and drifted back down to the meadow.
And she began to sing.

Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air; your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

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