Devotion for First Week of Lent 2023
Pastor Karen Crawford
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY
Audio of Pastor Karen sharing Tufted Titmouse!
“Be as a bird perched on a frail branch that she feels bending beneath her, still she sings away all the same, knowing she has wings.” – Victor Hugo
I saw a tufted titmouse today!!
If you are a serious birder, you are having a good laugh at my expense, aren’t you? I don’t mind. I have only just begun bird watching here in my Long Island backyard. I thought for sure the titmice would have visited as soon as the sunflower seeds were poured into the hopper and the suet was hung from its cage. I’ve been waiting, wondering if I were doing something wrong to keep them away.
I guess the Lord is still trying to teach me patience—and to appreciate the blessing of all God’s creatures—those we see often and those we see only rarely, if at all, and, therefore may seem more special to us.
I was excited to see the titmouse at my feeder!
I have seen other birds, some more flashy and colorful, but not the very common and familiar grey and white titmice, with their adorable spike on the top of their heads and their big, round eyes, with a perpetual look of surprise. Peterson’s bird guide says the titmice habitat includes “woodlands, shade trees, groves, residential areas and feeders,” so of course I would expect to see them around my house and neighborhood. Yes, we have the noise of suburbia—planes, trains, and traffic—but we live in a community with homes on large, wooded lots and quite a few residents who enjoy feeding the birds. This works together to make a nearly perfect habitat for all sorts of wildlife, including birds!
My name is Karen Crawford, and I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York. I live with my husband and one of our sons in beautiful St. James. I have served churches in Minnesota, Florida, and Ohio before coming to New York in May of last year.
It’s been about a month since I started this particular birding project— for my own joy and to uplift the spirits in other likeminded soulsI The idea for a Lenten devotional connected to backyard wildlife sightings came to me during a doctor of ministry class in January with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
I am someone who has always enjoyed being outside in God’s Creation. I often feel closer to God outside than in. I sense God’s presence and feel connected to the plants and animals of the earth, which I see as our kin. We were all made by the One Creator, our God who is the Lover of all creatures. We all belong to the Lord, as we read in Psalm 24:1,“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it…” The Lord is as concerned with the well-being of animals as much as the people God formed from the dust of the earth and charged to name and care for creatures, with the same loving eye that our God of Wonder cares for us.
I like to take walks and watch for wildlife. It’s as much for my emotional and spiritual health as for my physical health that I walk. I find myself talking to God while I walk, without forming words in my mind to pray. It may be more accurate to say that I am listening for God through all the sounds and voices around me—both natural and manmade.
I have been feeding birds since my first church in Minnesota in 2011. What inspired me to start feeding the birds? Honestly, I think it was because the winters in Minnesota are SO long— much longer than I was used to in Pennsylvania. And I worried about how wildlife can survive with such frigid temperatures. Then, it lifted my spirits to look out my window and see the birds at my feeders in Minnesota, especially when it was too cold and icy to go for a walk. With every bird that came for a visit, I felt a thrill of excitement. I still feel that way! I feel as if I am in the presence of something sacred and holy, strong yet fragile, when I watch the birds.
Do you know that there are Baltimore Orioles in Minnesota? As a native Marylander, it surprised me that our state bird had wandered all the way to Minnesota—and in winter, of all times to visit. Amazing! The vivid colors of the Orioles just took my breath away! A Swedish-American farmer named Bob in my congregation was feeding the Orioles grape jelly and orange slices in his yard. He hammered baby-food jar lids to our deck to use as feeding dishes for the sticky grape jelly. This was all new to me!
Something funny that Bob told me just came to mind. He said, “There’s no use feeding the birds if you can’t see ‘em eat.” He said it with a chuckle, but he was speaking seriously. What he meant was that watching the birds eat at his feeders was something so delightful to him that he didn’t want to miss it by erecting a feeder too far away or with an obstructed view from a window in his home. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about the birds’ well-being or if they ate or not! He was admitting that he was both feeding the birds and nourishing his spirit.
I feel so connected to the wildlife that if I see one in trouble or hurting, I feel emotional pain. When a bird flies into a glass door or window of my home and injures themself, I feel so sad. I believe this feeling of sadness comes from our Creator, who suffers with us when we are hurting, too. Suffering is expected when we love with God’s love, with Agape, which seizes us with such passion that it cannot be ignored. We must respond to it, and share it with others.
Bob was the one I called when what I now think was a house finch found her way into my basement in Minnesota, and I couldn’t get her out. She was frantically flapping and banging against the windows, which were sealed shut for winter. He asked me what kind of a bird it was, as if that would help him decide the best way to help it. I didn’t know, at the time. He laughed and said it must be a LBB—a little brown bird. We did help the bird find its way to safety through an open door in the kitchen, finally, but not before it frantically flew from window to window, bringing terror to my heart that it may gravely injure itself—due to making one bad decision with the best of intentions (trying to keep warm)—and ending up in the wrong place.
In this holy season of Lent, the image of God as the sheltering bird in Psalm 36 and our being invited to take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings captures my imagination and touches my heart. I am stirred to want to know, love, and serve the God of all Creatures and help my animal and human kin.
I hope you will come back and visit me here each week in Lent, while I share thoughts and sightings of backyard wildlife, stories of encounters with God’s people, and lessons learned on this journey of faith. Feel free to share your thoughts and photos.
May you be blessed when you take uninterrupted time to be with the God of all Creation, who longs to be with you. May you be graced by the wonder of wildlife sightings close to home—and the love and joy of the Spirit.
I leave you with this wonderful passage from Psalm 36, verses 5 through 9:
Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains;
your judgments are like the great deep;
you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.
7 How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
9 For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.
Let us pray.
Holy One, we praise and thank you for your precious, steadfast love that extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds, and your righteousness like the mighty mountains. We ask a blessing for all your creatures—those we see often and those we see rarely, if at all. We give you thanks that you care for and save humans and animals alike—and the psalmist’s promise that we may take refuge in the shadow of your wings. Open our eyes to see your glory in the natural beauty all around us and sing your praises, like the birds. Teach us to walk in your light and treat our human and animal kin with the same love and tenderness you lavish on us. Cleanse our hearts and fill us with your joy that overflows, spilling over all who inhabit the earth, sky, and sea. Amen.
4 thoughts on “Tufted Titmouse!”
We have Baltimore Orioles here on Long Island too.
Do you feed them grape jelly and oranges?
So enjoyed this. I was watching a Beautiful Blue Heron out of my window yesterday moving ever so softly and gracefully through the Pond water. Then 4 Beautiful Swans came down to join him. God paints those Beautiful pictures for us if we take the time to look!
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Thanks for this! Exactly how I feel when I see birds and wildlife. I always feel close to god and give thanks for the beauty and wonder of it all! Enjoy your birdwatching!
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