We have an improbable seven chickens in our backyard. They’re fascinating to watch. Fluffy butts bob in the air as they search for treats in the dirt, peck at my beans, and stop to smell the dandelions.
In particular, I love their range of vocalization. They’ve got a peep, cluck, or bokawk for nearly every circumstance. They’re constantly in communication with each other, whether they’re exploring the farthest reaches of their domain or happily munching on dried mealworms in their coop.
My favorite sound that they make, though, is a melodic trill. I hear it when I step outside, at night, when they’re safe in a warm, dry roost.
I’ve never seen them make this noise. If I opened the roost door as they settled down to sleep they’d find my action intrusive, and rightly so. But I do love standing outside and listening to them check in with each other: I’m safe and happy, are you safe and happy? Good, then. Good. This is good.
Our chickens were still pullets, when we put them in the coop in the backyard, which is the technical way of saying that they were too young to bother laying any eggs for us. They thought they were big, though. They thought they were full grown and ought to be allowed to hunt and scratch and sleep where they wanted.
They were indignant, squawking and flapping as I would put them one by one into the roosting area. From their perspective, I was imposing limitations, and I suppose they’re right about that. I know more than them, though, and I knew that they needed to be kept safe.
They were angry when I confined them. They told me in their best chicken language that they did not appreciate my efforts, but their trills in the night give them away. Being in the roost, safe and dry and all together, made them happy.
Now that they’re older, they know to go up on their own. While they were learning, though, it was my job to ensure that they’re secure.
Jesus once compared the citizens of Jerusalem (and by extension, I think, us as well) to just these sort of chicks. He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’
Doors close on me. Opportunities beckon, then recede across the horizon. Way seems open, then is most definitely not.
A choice presents itself to me: Can I see these closed pathways as evidence that God is gathering me in?
I rail against these limitations. I am one who kicks against the goads, as the Apostle Paul describes himself. I insist that I be allowed to do as I please.
And then, often through no useful work of my own, I find myself safe and sound, warm and dry, and a contented trill rises in my heart.
I am not a mother hen, but I make a passable substitute for our chickens. I provide plentiful food, clean water, snacks and shelter and room to explore, and safety when it’s called for. I have held a chick snug against my heart and felt it calm down and snuggle into the warmth and security of my embrace.
This gives me, I think, some small imperfect glimpse into the longing of God to smooth our feathers down and protect us under outspread wings. I am aware of how fragile our seven hens are, perhaps more than they are themselves. I want so much to ensure that they are safe.
Some birds have barred wings, you know, but to be under their wings is not to be imprisoned. Feathers are light, and a bird’s bones are hollow. If you are gathered under a bird’s wings, and if pure self-determination is what you want, then you can push yourself free.
Before you do so, though, listen to the heartbeat of the one who has gathered you close to her chest. Ask yourself if – perhaps – you are not better off resting in the nest for a Sabbath or so.
These seven hens run through our yard, gleaming in the sun, investigating each root and leaf and beetle. They know that they love their freedom, but they also now know their own need for protection. When they were immature, they resisted my attempts to keep them safe. Now, when day is dying in the west, they return to the coop and trill away in their roost.
And likewise, over our protests, sometimes we are pulled under the protective cover of God’s wing. When God longs to keep us safe and near, may we not long for freedom and danger. When way closes, instead of banging at shut doors, may we have the maturity to nestle deeply under the wing of the Spirit who loves us more than we can imagine.
Julie Rudd pastors at Wilmington Friends Meeting. You can learn more about Wilmington Friends Meeting at www.wilmingtonfriendsohio.org, or www.facebook.com/wfmeeting.