Sparrows love the camellia bush just outside our back door. The bush bloomed with extraordinary enthusiasm this spring. Maybe the sparrows just can’t get enough of the flowers’ pink lemonade.
Whatever the reason, sparrows are bounteous and busy in our backyard. And they are quite fearless too. Just yesterday one of them landed with confidence on the deck rail and stared me in the eye. Do sparrows play chicken?
Until my encounter with that particular plucky sparrow, I had not given much thought to these tiny, inauspicious birds. Our yard teems with them, darting from fence post to forsythia to tree limbs to lamp post, and their earth tone patchwork costuming has never inspired my eyes.
But sparrows seem to inspire God’s eyes because they show up by name in the Gospels as luminaries in one of Jesus’ proverbs:
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid ; you are of more value than many sparrows.
This week I have watched our backyard sparrows with what has become a thrum of statistics and numbers and quantitative predictions rumbling in my heart and mind. How many people will test positive with COVID-19? Of those, how many will need ventilators? How many ventilators are available? What percentage of the COVID-19-positive will die? How many points will the Dow fall today? How many people will lose their jobs?
The most troubling question that has joined my heart-thrum is one implied by a political leader in Texas several days ago: How many people (and what demographic of people) should be willing to sacrifice treatment to “save the country”?
Jesus’ choice of sparrows for his proverb was intentional and prophetic. Vendors in those times sold sparrows for people to offer as temple sacrifices. Sparrows were cost effective. Two for a penny.
And yet–Jesus sees prophetic wisdom in sparrows. Maybe that is because they delight God’s eyes with their subtle but profound diversity. Ask birdwatchers. They will tell you that the U.S. is a home for the Tree Sparrow, Golden-crowned Sparrow, Chipping Sparrow, Grasshopper Sparrow, House Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Saltmarsh Sharp-tailed Sparrow, Seaside Sparrow, Field Sparrow and at least 30 more types. To see the feathery nuances of all of these types, watchers have to hold the sparrows in their eyes.
An old hymn sings of sparrows:
His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know he watches me—
Civilla D. Martin, 1905
God holds the sparrows and us—each and every one of us humans—in God’s eyes.
Our local and global human communities face many tests in this crisis moment. A test question I consider most critical to our future flourishing is this: Will we hold the sparrows in our eyes as we make decisions about numerical bottom lines?
This question dwells at the heart of what I believe is the Gospel. Perhaps now is our time, as communities of faith, to do what we have not done in Gospel spirit and truth across our collective history. Perhaps now is the time to learn to care for each and every person and in particular for those who have been and are most vulnerable. Perhaps now is the time to keep our eyes on the sparrows and from that vantage point wrestle with the complex moral questions that are arising out of the mist with each new pandemic-plagued day.
In this, for me, nests our hope–that even as God cares for us, we are called to care for each other. Yes, God is calling us in these days–“keep your eyes on the sparrows.” I pray that I will have the wisdom and courage to do just that, in the name of the One who creates, redeems, and sustains us and our world.
With Our Eyes on the Sparrows
keep your eye on the sparrow
she says as she watches my face
burrowed into church eaves
nesting in the backyard camellia bush
fence picket perchers fussing in
damp dirt behind a too-full raincatcher
no stand-out solo serenades or fiery
flashes like cardinals in springtime
no soaring hawk-winged shadow puppets
sickling dew-drenched summer grass
a copper coin for a pair of sparrows
jesus said as he watched their faces
the creating-one knows every wing-beat
fashions and fastens every feather
delights in each hair on each head
relishes every strand silvered by winter suns
so i watched today as a plucky sparrow
sat on the deck rail and watched me
i imagined being able to fly away—
to escape sorrows gone viral
she nods a gentle blessing
i think i’ll keep my eyes on you