[Episcopal News Service] Why was she doing that—up, down, back and forth—right in front of me? Once she had my full attention, she showed me her secret: she lowered herself down into a petite nest that the wind was throwing around like a yo-yo. Her intention quickly became clear: she wanted my help securing her nest.
The would-be mother was a Costa hummingbird, distinguished by a creamy white neck and weighing in at about 1/10 of an ounce.
Two weeks earlier, a tiny broken egg had appeared on the patio near the same spot. Perhaps this mama hummingbird had lost a baby to the wind already, and was so determined to achieve maternal success that she was bold enough to ask a member of another species for help.
Using some wire and scissors, I tied up the long, flowing branch of the cape honeysuckle that held her nest. She stayed on her nest as it continued to bob up and down, watching me intently as I worked. I imagined her heart was beating even faster than usual, fueled by fear and hope. After I was finished, the nest was more stable and the little mama was content.
The next morning, I left home for two weeks. While I was gone, the weather reports indicated my town would endure unusually high winds over two days. I wondered how the would-be desert mother was faring.
When I arrived home, the first thing I did was check the nest. There she was, right in place! A week later, there were two little heads sticking up out of the nest, adorned with the same distinctive white throats as their mother.
All three of them became used to me walking by and looking up at them. I enjoyed observing their ways. Mama would bring insects periodically to the squawking chicks. In the hot afternoon sun, she would go to a nearby fountain and sip mouthfuls of water to take back to them.
A week later, just in time for Mother’s Day, she coaxed the fledglings out of the nest much as a parent encourages a child to walk. A few days later, I saw her feeding one of the fledglings in a nearby tree. And soon enough, the babies disappeared and the mama was alone again. The next generation was successfully launched, thanks to this wise desert mother with a body that weighs less than an ounce but with a spirit strong enough to ask for help.
Hummingbirds are considered one of the smartest birds, right up there with ravens and crows. The slang term “bird brain” does not do them justice. Even so, humans are even smarter, equipped with the most powerful brains in creation. But how many of us learn as quickly as this desert mama? She only had to lose one egg to realize she needed a plan B that required something other than her own abilities.
Our intelligent species seems to get stuck more easily than this hummer. We try something, fail, and then think if we just keep at it, we’ll achieve success. Sometimes this strategy works, and sometimes it doesn’t. There is a fine line between persistence and stubbornness. As Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.”
Congregations in the Episcopal Church have watched many eggs fall out of the spiritual nest. Over the past 50 years, two generations have said “no thanks” to participating in the church as it is currently configured. Perhaps this loss of connection is the price to be paid for the harsh winds of self-reliance blowing through the church and American society at large, generated by the baby boomers and the “greatest generation.”
In Matthew 7:7-8, Jesus encourages us to be more like the hummingbird:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”
What does meaningful worship look like to all the generations? What physical and financial structures are all the generations able and willing to support to have their spiritual hunger sated? How can the spiritual life of the parish help young people flourish in our society rather than drain them with volunteer work demands? Can we hear the voice of a 30-year old prophet? Are we partnering with other groups to serve community needs efficiently?
These questions are not too hard for us if we are following Jesus’ advice to ask, seek, knock, and pray. The Holy Spirit hovers close by, waiting to mother us with help to secure the nest and replace death with life. And when the help shows up, it takes wisdom to recognize the helper, who may or may not be wearing a collar and just might be from another generation, race, religion, gender, sexual preference, culture, or even species!
If we would have faith the size of a hummingbird… all things are possible for us.
- Phyllis Strupp is the author of Church Publishing’s Faith and Nature curriculum and the author of The Richest of Fare: Seeking Spiritual Security in the Sonoran Desert.