The cold weather this weekend has the birds spending lots of time at my feeders. They’re equal-opportunity feeders, meaning that while seed-eating birds flock to the feeders, the occasional falcon takes advantage of the congregated birds to take a songbird as a snack of his own.
I watch a Kestrel (a type of falcon also known as a Sparrow Hawk) sitting on a branch above the feeders. While a Kestrel will sometimes take a bird, their primary diet is usually little creatures like mice. This one has apparently figured out that mice glean the seed that falls beneath the feeders, and he watches the ground intently.
The songbirds seem to know a falcon is sitting in the tree, as they stay away from the feeders while he’s there. I see them gathered not far away, clearly wanting to feed on this frigid day, but nervous about the falcon.
In most cases, hunger will eventually trump risk, as it does with the sparrows and finches. The flock might lose one individual, but the flock as a whole needs to eat.
The first to approach the feeders is a group of Titmice that stumble into the area. Their rapid flitting from branch to branch attracts the attention of the Sparrow Hawk, and as they notice his presence they decide to move along.
Just as the Titmice move along, the Sparrows and Finches move into the top of the tree. They seem to know the Sparrow Hawk is still in the tree, staying above his perch as they chatter and move about from branch to branch. The Sparrow Hawk is clearly on high alert – looking for a chance to take a little bird who lets his guard down for just an instant. Eventually, a group of half a dozen or so Goldfinches drop down to the feeders, and the Sparrow Hawk makes his move.
Fortunately for the Goldfinches, they’re agile on the wing, and the Sparrow Hawk doesn’t have enough space to gain any reasonable attack speed. The hawk flies off empty-taloned, and the Goldfinches resume their feeding after a couple minutes.
I’m always torn about who to “root for” when the falcons are around the feeder. It is a bird feeder, after all, and falcons are birds too, right? My immediate reaction is always to root for the underdog – the songbird. But common sense usually takes over and I figure it’s out of my hands – it’s just nature happening around me, and I’m blessed to be able to observe. No need to “root for” anybody.
Why’s that so hard for us – to just observe without rooting for somebody? Why do we always feel like we need to be on one side or the other of something?
After all, G-d isn’t rooting for one or the other, right? It’s just a balance thing, and it’s happening and balancing as we watch. And there’s beauty in balance, regardless of the outcome of this little confrontation or that little close-call.
We often mold G-d into our own image, and this is one of those areas where I think it’s most apparent. Our human nature (for whatever reason) pushes us to always take sides on things, rather than simply understanding things and solving problems. This is a human characteristic, not a Divine one, yet we can’t resist pushing G-d into this little mold.
I coached and refereed competitive soccer for years, and watched as many teams would have a “prayer” prior to the beginning of the match. While I have no doubt that the basic underlying intention of coaches was good when they did this, I also have little doubt that most of the time it was unconsciously a show – putting the “religiosity” of the coach on display in front of an audience. This aspect of the practice amused me.
But another aspect of the prayer disturbed me. The likely collateral effect these “prayers” had on young minds bothered me – implying that G-d might just provide the most help to whichever team prayed the best, or the most, or with the right words. As-if to imply that “G-d is on my team, not on the other team.”
While this might not by the explicit intent of the coach, I believe it’s one of the implied lessons beneath the practice. While I love the practice of prayer, I can only imagine how much more valuable the practice would be if both teams came together before the match, and prayed together. What a powerful lesson that would be for the players and the spectators. It would imply clearly the reality that G-d doesn’t “choose up sides” in this sort of thing, and that our need for prayer is our need to keep ourselves close to G-d.
It’s an unfortunate reality we face in the world, with so many all across the globe believing that their perspective of G-d is the one and only right version – that G-d rejects all the other people who happen to have been brought up with a different perspective or different traditions. It’s quite selfish behavior really, and the sort of self-righteousness that’s led to more war and misery than anything else in our history.
In my Christian tradition, we’ve got a really nice hymn that’s based on words Jesus spoke. The words from the refrain that are most memorable to like this:
“His eye is on the Sparrow,
and I know G-d watches over me.”
Maybe He watched the dance at my feeders. If so, His eye probably was on the Sparrow, and on the falcon as well. The falcon missed this time, but the odds may have worked in his favor later in the day, and he probably found a mouse, or a finch. And G-d probably smiled at the beauty of the balance that continued to be maintained.