A few months back a young couple spent a weekend with us at Toad Hall. Scott had graciously come to help us plaster and paint, and his wife Alison and little son, Brady, came with him. Ali sent a very sweet email to Margie after they returned home to St Louis. “I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciated getting to spend time with you,” she wrote. “It’s rare to meet people who seem to let life pause just to sit and talk with you… it means more than you know and has changed how I spend time with people.”
It’s hard to “let life pause.” Expect plenty of criticism—some of the most scathing from Christians—if you decide to cultivate this grace. And, for those who would like to cultivate it, I have a simple, practical suggestion: get a bird feeder. We have three: one in our backyard, one mounted just outside Margie’s office window, and one strategically hung in a pine tree so as to be visible from my desk. As I write this there are goldfinches eating thistle seed, squabbling over the perches.
I had never thought of making this suggestion until Donald Guthrie mentioned a comment made by Calvin DeWitt. Dr Guthrie teaches at Covenant Seminary which was hosting a lecture series by Dr DeWitt, a man who takes seriously the biblical mandate to care for the earth. Donald said that in chapel he had asked Dr DeWitt what advice he would give to Seminary students, who represent the next generation of teaching elders in the church. “Get a bird feeder,” DeWitt said.
There are always interruptions when I am at my desk. The phone rings, emails arrive, and out of the corner of my eye I can see my calendar and To-Do list. (Putting them in a drawer doesn’t help—their existence is far too substantial to be hidden.)
I know I shouldn’t, but sometimes I resent phone calls. I’m working on it, OK? The same goes for emails. I’m working on that, too. I know I should never be irritated by people made in God’s image, that they aren’t an interruption. I try to remember that every time they interrupt me.
There is one interruption that I cherish: the bird feeder, an interruption of delight, beauty and wonder. I refill it regularly, and don’t like it when the birds for whatever reason don’t visit. I happily pause in what I’m doing to watch them. Just last week we had our first snow fall of the season, and in the tree above the feeder a pair of mourning doves found refuge. They roosted on branch under an bough heavy with snow, protected from the storm in a natural pine shelter. I watched them preen and was sorry when they left. Gold finches came in a small drove to the feeder after the snow stopped, their subdued winter plumage still colorful against the green of the pine and the white of the new fallen snow. Later, when I went out to restock the feeder they flew into a neighboring linden tree, scolding until I was finished.
Our bird feeders remind us of the wonder of God’s creation. They are one small part of our effort to be faithful in stewarding God’s good creation. And they remind us, constantly, that stopping to watch, and wait, and watch some more is too important to be missed. That to hurry delight is to destroy it, and that gentle beauty can make the heart ache with hope.
So, please, get a bird feeder, and let life pause.