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
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.
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
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 www.eagles.org.
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!