By Sue Magrath
I am an avid birdwatcher, and we usually keep at least two feeders supplied with bird feed year-round. However, this year was different because medical issues and general chaos in our lives interfered with our habit of making sure the birds were fed. Not surprisingly, they stopped coming around. I missed the flutter of wings for a while, the ballet of swooping birds moving from tree to feeder to the ground and back again. And then I forgot about them entirely because I was just too busy to think about anything other than what was straight in front of me.
Then my husband had a day that wasn’t filled with all manner of appointments or responsibilities, so he went outside, patched up our beat-up feeders (thanks to a drive-through bear), and filled them back up. Of course, it took a while for the chickadees, finches, and juncos to realize that their old stand-by was back in business, but one day, as if by magic, they suddenly appeared again. My husband saw them first and called me to come and look. I ran to see, and there must have been at least fifty of them. My eyes feasted on the pale yellow of female goldfinches, the red heads of the house finches, the black hoods of the juncos, the brilliant blue of the stellar jays. After that, I started watching for them out the window of my exercise room. They were my entertainment while I walked the treadmill—their patterns of flight, their squabbles for the prime perch, their sudden swoops across the field. I was still too busy, but their presence brightened my mood.
A week or so later, some friends came to visit. They wanted to take a drive to see the beauty of our corner of the world, and they expressed hope of seeing a bald eagle out near Lake Wenatchee. I thought the likelihood of that was between slim and none, but off we went. It was a lovely drive, and then, as we were driving along Nason Creek, my husband suddenly slammed on the brakes. “There,” he shouted, pointing at a sand bar at the edge of the creek, “an eagle!” And indeed, there he was. He was a beautiful specimen—pure white head, regal carriage, and graceful flight as he lifted his wings and glided away across our field of vision. It was a breathtaking and glorious moment. The next morning, twenty-five wild turkeys wandered into our yard, and a couple of pheasants (a rarity in our area) strutted across the driveway later in the day. It was a bird feast!
I have to wonder, were these truly unusual sights, or had our feathered friends been there all along, and we just weren’t paying attention? Do beauty and glory exist all around us without us noticing? During the Advent season, there are so many things to get done, especially for clergy, and often many of us just can’t wait for it to be over. We put our nose to the grindstone and just plow through the to-do list, head down, never pausing to attend to the glory that is there in the simple moments, when we lift our heads, open our eyes, and pay attention to that which is a blessing. It doesn’t take much time just to be present to the gifts of a child’s laughter, a hug from a loved one, a deep conversation, a gorgeous sunset, or the beauty of snow falling gently on the fields, sidewalks, roofs, and lawns.
In those quiet moments, I think of Joseph and Mary in that manger with a newborn baby, probably not as docile as hymn lyrics would have us believe, but nonetheless a miracle. I wonder if they felt the awe of being in the presence of the son of God right there alongside the cows and goats amid “tax season.” It must have been pretty stressful, especially having been on the road for several days, weary and without a place to stay. But the stars shone bright, the stable was warm, and the angels were singing. Glory was there, and they were part of it. May we, too, find glory as we walk the path toward Christmas day with open eyes and expectant hearts.
Sue Magrath is a spiritual director and the author of several books. Her previous career spanned fourteen years in the mental health field, where many of her clients were victims/survivors of child sexual abuse and/or sexual assault.