We’d had heavy thunderstorms for several days, but the temperature had not dropped. When I took the dogs out first thing that morning, the air felt heavy, warm, and wet. Low-lying clouds hung over the woods in the distance, teats full of rain. Another storm was coming.
As I waited on the dogs, a small movement caught my eye to the left. With surprise, I noticed a fledgling bird on our back porch, peering up at me and seeming as surprised to see me as I was to see him. “Why, hello there,” I said, bending down to get a better look. “What are you doing here?”
The little bird looked at me soberly, craning his neck. Not the least bit afraid, he stared me full in the face as if to say, “What do you think I’m doing here? I’m lost!”
He didn’t appear to be wounded or hurt in any way, but was so still he looked carved of wood. Only his eyes blinked. As I ushered the oblivious dogs back into our house, I speculated about how he might have become lost. I knew of no nests near that part of the house, but scanned the trees for them anyway.
I went back inside and watched the little bird through the window, mulling over what to do. I could capture the bird, cage him, and feed him until he was old enough to fly and care for himself. Our youngest girls would be thrilled. I could leave him alone and see if he worked out his destiny on his own. I could wait and see whether his mother might find him. Surely by now she had noticed him missing.
“What are you looking at?” my daughter Juniper asked as she entered the room. “This fledgling,” I pointed. He’s fallen from his nest somewhere and is lost on our porch.” Juniper observed the little fellow with interest. “What are you gonna do about him?” she asked.
“I don’t know. I was just wondering about that,” I said as I fixed my second cup of tea for the day.
After a few minutes, Juniper exclaimed, “Mom! Look! I think his mother’s out there!”
Sure enough, a larger bird with his same coloring and markings was perched on the plant hook above the little fellow, chirping. “Chirp! Chirp! Chirp!” she’d say, and “Peep! Peep! Peep!” he’d reply. Once a hearty litany of chirping and peeping had been established, the mother began to move a foot away from her baby with each series of chirps. The fledgling followed, flapping his stubby little wings with excited salutes and standing tall on tippy-toes as if to say, “I’m with you, Mum! Aye-aye, Mum!”
Attracted by all the chirping and peeping, three or four birds of other varieties joined in the chorus and began to flutter around the mother-child pair with some excitement, one settling in our Redbud tree, another perching on the edge of a flower pot, one hopping between the roof and the top of a deck chair.
The mother and baby appeared to be Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, our state bird. With tails four times longer than their bodies, they can do air stunts and acrobatics like nobody’s business. But the fledgling had still the stubby wings and short tail of a child; without his mother’s help he was unlikely to find his way to safety.
I followed the pair past our pool house and to the mature pear tree near the fence dividing our yard from our pasture. In spite of the other bird calls surrounding him, the fledgling steadfastly followed his mother’s voice. The mother appeared to be leading her baby toward our barn. I worried about his ability to survive in the open as he crossed the field, and about what would happen when he couldn’t be returned to the nest due to his inability to fly. Still, his mother continued to chirp with confidence, insisting, “Follow me! Come this way!”
The last time I observed the pair, he had taken shelter under a lawnmower and she was perched on a branch above him, urging him forward. My husband had driven past us with a load of lumber and it was as if the mother had called, “Hide under that thing, junior, until Danger has passed!” Once my husband drove away, their journey commenced. Though a part of me fretted about what prey this baby might become in the open field, I had confidence in the mother’s ability to direct her offspring. She had gotten him this far; what she did with her baby was her business. She had not, after all, ever tried to interfere with my childrearing.
As I went about my morning chores, I thought about the small drama I’d witnessed over the past 45 minutes and a parable of Jesus came to mind. St. John the Apostle records that after Jesus healed the man who had been blind from birth, the religious leaders of the day confronted the healed man, accusing him of being a blasphemer and follower of Jesus rather than a true Jew and follower of Moses. Jesus had healed the blind man on the Sabbath, an act prohibited by law according to the religious leaders, who began to bicker over whether Jesus could truly be from God and be a Sabbath-breaker at the same time.
In response to all the bickering, Jesus told his followers,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. And a stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”
This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.
Jesus therefore said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, and kill, and destroy; I came that they might have life, and might have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hireling, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My own, and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. (John 10:1-18)
“A stranger they simply will not follow.” Like the fledgling who knew his mother’s voice and followed it, beloved children hear the voice of the Good Mother, the Good Father, the Good Shepherd, and follow. It is the simplest thing in the world to follow the good shepherd of our souls when we know his voice, when we know from long experience that this voice can be trusted.
Children who have not been loved, but who have been abused and neglected and grown up unprotected do not know the voice of the good shepherd. Having been trained by parents who act like thieves, hirelings, and robbers, they became habituated to the voices of thieves, hirelings, and robbers. Their childhoods were lived in emotional war zones rather than sunny, verdant pastures fit for lambs. Never knowing from which direction danger might come, they lost the ability to hear the good voice and became accustomed to the survival mentality necessary for those raised in war zones. They cannot live in true community, do not understand or manifest loyalty, and deeply mistrust everyone, including themselves. Without a spiritual rebirth, they are doomed; this is why Jesus said, “You must be born again.”
Where is the hope for the lost lamb, the lamb who has been raised by hirelings, thieves and robbers, by shepherds who flee when danger approaches and teach their sheep that they’re on their own? It is in being born again, in somehow being taken to a place where they are once again protected in womb-like safety, nurtured and protected until the time comes when they are ready to come out of the womb (the tomb) and live.