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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

For Spring: A True Story about a Chicken

It’s spring in the northern hemisphere where I live. In honor of the season, I’d like to tell you a true story about a chicken.

I have a friend named Mary Ann who lives a little north of Detroit. A widow, she has two grown children and two grandchildren. She lives on about ten acres of land and raises a small menagerie of animals: a dozen or so sheep (one ram was named Lavender), two geese (one was named Dante), a handful of chickens, a couple of cats, and two dogs.

One spring day I was visiting Mary Ann when she said to me excitedly, “My cat had two kittens yesterday. Come out to the

A good mother hen protecting her brood. But one chick is apparently too curious to take shelter.
A good mother hen protecting her brood. But one chick is apparently too curious to take shelter.

barn to see them.” As we walked into the barn, she told me the kittens were nestled in straw behind a piece of plywood. When Mary Ann moved the plywood to show me the kittens, we were both startled by what we saw. For sitting on top of the newborn kittens was a brown chicken! She was keeping them warm.

It’s easy to explain how this strange thing happened. The mother cat must have left the kittens for a few minutes. The kittens, both basically white, did look a little like two eggs. The hen must have happened by and saw the kittens lying in the straw. Instantly something clicked in her little chicken brain. Thinking the kittens were two unattended eggs, she did what every hen is programmed to do: incubate! She sat on those “eggs,” incubating them with nothing more than the warmth of her own body.

I know, I know…This is not a chicken. It’s a mother duck. But the same principle applies.

This incident is a parable for me. No, we aren’t chickens. But remember, Jesus did liken himself to a chicken when he said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood.” Furthermore, the first image of God in Genesis is that of God hovering over the “formless waste” and “vast abyss” like some cosmic bird. The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, describes God in these words: “Because the Holy Spirit over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and ah! bright wings.”

One of the great names for God is Birth-er, that is, the One who continuously gives birth—-to everything and everyone! Can we also say that God is Warm-er? And that God “incubates” all of creation? And if we are made in God’s image and likeness, are we called to give warmth, to incubate too? Is there a sense in which we, like that chicken, are programmed to “incubate” others, that is, to nourish their life by our own warmth? I think the answer to all of those questions is YES.

How do we share the warmth of who we are with others? There are thousands of ways. I’ll list a few here: by paying attention to others, by speaking kindly to and about them, by doing small favors, by sharing our talents, by allowing

When I was growing up on the farm, I never tired of seeing baby chickens, ducks, and geese breaking out of their shells. It was a miracle every time!
When I was growing up on the farm, I never tired of seeing baby chickens, ducks, and geese breaking out of their shells. It was a miracle every time!

ourselves to be inconvenienced by the needs of another, by praying for others, by being a pleasant person, by driving an elderly neighbor to the doctor, by writing a check to a worthy cause, by paying someone a compliment, by living more simply, by volunteering, by being a good parent or grandparent, by picketing for a just cause, by babysitting, by being a caregiver.

Our world today at times seems like a “formless waste.” Just think of those vast refugee camps all over the world. Or, in Hopkins’ words, our world is “bent” and even broken in many places. We can’t do everything to straighten out or mend our world; but we can do something. When we perform even small acts of love, we bestow warmth on others. We nurture their lives. Just as God bestows warmth on us and nurtures our life.

My story was about a chicken nurturing newborn kittens. This video is about a young man nurturing a baby hummingbird. He rescued the bird when it was being attacked. He fed it sugar water and later, he even smashed up some insects to feed the little bird. Gradually he acclimated the bird to the outdoors. Eventually the bird flew into the wild where it thrived, said the young man. The video is accompanied by the song “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. The song says to me that we humans are better together than when we’re separated from each other by hatred, fear, and prejudice!

What did you think of the chicken story? of the hummingbird video?

Who has “incubated” you or nurtured you? Whom have you incubated or nurtured?

PS: I’ve been mesmerized by a certain eagles’ nest in Washington, D.C. The nest has two live cameras focused on it 24/7. The parent eagles (dubbed Mr. President and The First Lady) have two eaglets that hatched a couple of weeks ago. It is fascinating watching them feeding their young (mostly fish) and caring for them so tenderly. If you’d like to view the video, just go to

PS: Please keep in your prayers a women’s retreat day I’ll be leading on Tuesday, April 5 at Notre Dame Educational Center here in Chardon. The theme is Psalm 23. About 36 women are expected. Thank you! 

19 Responses

  1. Sr. Melannie,

    My mentor at work has incubated me through the years. Even though he has retired I still try to stay in contact at least once a month. In turn, as a senior faculty member I try to pass that nurturing on to other younger faculty members. Such a blessing!


    1. Dear Kathleen, Yes, it’s so important for the “senior” members of the faculty to nurture the “freshmen.” I had some great mentors when I began teaching too! Thanks for taking the time to write! Sr. Melannie

  2. The 23rd is my favorite, I would love to go to your retreat!!! Do you ever travel to New York????.
    Have a great Sister, keep warming all of our hearts….

  3. The 23rd is my favorite Psalm!!! I would le to go to this retreat, do you ever travel to New York???. Have a great day Sister, keep warming our hearts……

  4. What a joy this was to read! What lovely examples of kindness and caretaking. Inspires me to keep caring for the birds in my backyard. We’ve named several of them just like your friend did: Ester (Williams), the robin, in honor of her free-spirited bird bath performances; Mrs. Potts, the dove who waddles in with her kinfolk to snack on the food that’s fallen to the ground; Rusty, a bright brown bird who shovels the food onto the ground for the Potts family and assorted furry critters who cannot reach the feeder… “All creatures, great and small…” In turn, they care for us through the peace and enjoyment we feel by watching them.

  5. Thanks for this wonderful reflection, Melannie. I especially appreciated the Hopkins reference–my favorite poet! And that particular poem always rejuvenates my hope. Keep up the good work!

  6. Oh, Sister, that was beautiful. My goal today is to make someone a little warmer. About the video: imagine being able to say or to put on a resume that you nursed, nurtured, and nudged a hummingbird back to normal!

    1. Dear John, I loved your comment about the resume. It shows that there are some personal qualities that are much more important than the things we list on our resumes! Thanks for the insight! Sr. Melannie

  7. Sister Melanie, I love all your inspirational stories. They are so easy to relate to! Years ago, two of my sons would order day old peeps..50 of them!! We also had ducks and two geese. The duck layer an egg, but was too lazy to sit the nest, but one hen did the job. To see a mother hen with all her peeps and one duckling walking about was wonderful. One day I heard the hen squawking frantically… I ran outside, climbed the pasture fence to see the problem….the little duck had found the pond, and was having a swim, mama hen was having a fit!! Nature is blessed! ❤️

    1. Dear Rosemary, I sense you are a kindred spirit! And I loved your story about the duckling taking naturally to water while its surrogate mother was having a fit! Thanks for sharing your story! Sr. Melannie

      1. Thank you, dear Sister,
        I am honored to be a “kindred spirit “… made my day
        God bless you

    1. Thank you, Annette! Yes, today, April 8 is the feast of St. Julie Billiart. Her maxim was “God is good!” She said these words not only when things were going her way, but also during times of misunderstandings, uncertainty, pain, and sorrow. Sr. Melannie

  8. Lively thought. I wish I could be tender and loving to my novices like that man who nurture d the humming bird.wsiting for s copy of Psalm 23 for novitiate u

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Meet Sr. Melannie

Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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