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Mother Hen Instinct

May 15, 2017 by

Inspired by Mother’s Day, which was yesterday, Norann shared this story with us. . .


Our bantam hens hatch and raise little flocks in our backyard. I love to watch them care for and nurture their babies. My father always told me to watch mothering hens closely, because then I would understand why Jesus refers to them with such confidence. That created special imagery for me as a child, but now, as I’ve grown into motherhood, it’s given me a new level of understanding. No cat or dog or raven comes near a hen and her chicks, because when they do, this happens:

a mother hen ruffling up her feathers defensively to protect her chicks

I know the feeling. It happened to me once, too.

It was a gentle spring evening in a small rural town. I was walking home with my two young sons, one holding each hand, when he came out of nowhere, a young, troubled man, and began to harass my sons.

His eyes wild, he grabbed at them and yelled at me.

There was no one around.

I spoke to him in firm, commanding, quiet yet angry tones, and he disappeared.

We quickened our pace and covered a block and he reappeared, ready to attack, reaching for the boys, scaring, tormenting.

My husband was still at work on the outskirts of town. Down in a ditch with his construction team, shoveling dirt and laying lines, or maybe just finishing up the day and putting the tools back in the truck, exchanging blokey goodbyes. I thought of his mud-spattered biceps.

I looked around for help in a passing car. None came.

I implored the man to leave us. He did.

We trotted down the final block when he struck a third time.

The author Anne Lamott says she knows only two best prayers. I was crash-praying the first one over and over then – “Help me, help me, help me!” – when something came from deep inside me.

I said words I did not know I had the ability to say. I said them in impossibly smart and articulate conjunction with other words, sounding like a street lawyer. I said them in a volume I never knew I had. The boys looked at me with trauma and awe. The man stared at me like I was the one with ill intent and staggered backwards as if physically hit, crashing into a bush. Unsteadily, he recovered himself, turned and ran.

It was then that I knew that I had the capacity, if not the inclination, for violent protection. But I was also ready – at that moment – to die defending my sons.

Only when we were home, safe, the doors shut behind us and the boys busy with books, did I, the fierce mother hen, collapse, shaking on my knees. I was trembling, and gasping over and over the other best prayer: “Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

In the years since this incident, as my hens protect and bring into full adulthood their young, I marvel at the imagery Jesus creates for us when he speaks of himself as that mother hen, wishing to gather her young. Jesus, the truest man, is not afraid to talk about true motherhood. As a child in Nazareth, he would have seen that a gathering hen also fiercely protects her brood. She too is totally ready to die defending them, and to willingly lay down her life for those she loves. In her eyes she has the ability to fend off, and in her protecting wings she has the capacity to gather and guard. There is no safer place to be Home.

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About the author

Norann Voll

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • Dear Norann, I just love the way you write! Every word precious and succinct! I love it that you make each story memorable, through your own personal experience. I so identify with the two prayers: Help me! and Thankyou! How often I have prayed those two prayers myself! Certainly a beautiful story for Mother's Day, but especially a beautiful story of the active, protective love of our Father. Thankyou for sharing your heart with us. Love, Heather

    Heather Kerridge