A violent windstorm ripped through my town the other night, the kind that leaves you mesmerized yet humbled at your own powerlessness. A tornado wreaked damage nearby, with 76,000 homes left without power, and 80 mph winds were the norm.
We were lucky at my house. Some bushes were partially uprooted, but we were able to sink them back into the soil and they’re doing well.
The morning after the storm, I strolled to the elm tree to check on a robin’s nest I’d been watching. Expecting it to have vanished in the maelstrom, I was amazed to see the mother robin sitting there, resolutely doing her duty.
How could that nest have survived? What architectural brilliance anchored that nest to the branch? I know that after storms, nests and dead birds can blanket the landscape. How much wind could this nest take?
Recently, the Gospel reading saw Jesus counseling people on fear and trust. “Fear no one,” he tells his followers. “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.”
As I read those words, I thought of my robin’s nest. What kind of God do we have, who is conscious of a little robin? What kind of God permeates our lives and our world with such love and awareness? With such a God, how can I ever feel unloved or unappreciated?
Often, like most people, I want to be acknowledged, to be recognized for my gifts, my aches and pains, my needs. Instead, I realize my own smallness and lack of importance in this world.
On better days, I turn this realization toward an awareness of others, of their pains, their needs, their effort. I seek compassion rather than honor. I rest in the assurance that as God watches the sparrow, God watches me.
But why would someone want to buy two sparrows for a small coin anyway, I wondered. A little research augmented my best guess. Poor people might find a sparrow or two could cheaply supplement a meager meal with a little protein. Similarly, in a world where offerings were made at the temple — pigeons, for example, or a lamb or larger animal if you were wealthy — two sparrows might be a sacrificial offering from the poor.
So, the little sparrow of which the Creator is so aware meets his end just like all of us. It’s not that we believe in a God who saves us from everything we fear. It’s that we believe in a God who is with us through all things, and therefore we should fear nothing. There’s a big difference there, and it’s where we make our leap of faith.
Years ago, I interviewed a good friend who was part of a program called “No One Dies Alone.” He was on call to come to the hospital or hospice if someone was in imminent danger of death and had no loved ones. Perhaps homelessness or distance prevented anyone’s presence.
My friend witnessed many a death, sometimes saying a rosary with a dying Catholic, sometimes merely holding a stranger’s hand as he left this life.
But what happens, I wondered. What is this mystery of death?
“I don’t know,” responded my friend.
“All I know,” he said with certainty, “is that I see people fall into the hands of a merciful God.”
The honors and attention and wealth of this world fade away. But we believe the presence and mercy and love of God remains. This belief sustains us through life’s storms.