Following Jesus

Encounters: Armidale, October 2017

January 19, 2018 by

During thirty some years of marriage, Bill and Grace Wiser have travelled to all but two of the world’s continents. Join them as they sketch their encounters with birds, stars, and fellow travelers; with books, ideas, and dreams; with boreal forest, tropical savannah, prison walls, and crowded city streets. The following encounter takes us to Armidale, New South Wales, where Bill and Grace pastored a house church for one year.

It had not been a good morning and during my noon workout at the university gym a modified Gilbert & Sullivan line kept running through my head, keeping pace with the monotonous thud of dozens of feet pounding on dozens of treadmills. “A [pastor’s] lot is not a happy one.”

Some days are just like that. Someone you’ve been working with makes bad choices resulting in bad consequences. A hope or a dream for someone you love is dashed on the rocks of circumstance. Trust is betrayed. Again. In sum, nothing all that extraordinary. But sometimes the stuff of life simply gets at you.

The view out one of the gym’s narrow windows was not particularly inspiring: an edge of grass with a few small trees up against the window, a rugby pitch beyond that, and above a mostly overcast sky. After months without it, rain would have been preferable to this half-hearted promise of it. But in any event, I was not focussed on the sky; a downcast spirit bends the head as well, and my gaze simply took in the ground and the bottom branches of the nearest tree. There goes that G & S line through my head again. Thud. Thud. Thud. Pound. Pound. Pound.

Then a quick movement caught my eye. It was a female Superb Fairy-wren.

Just a tiny ball of feathers, drab against a drab backdrop on a drab day. But the action was enough to kick-start the reflexive response of any birder: Where the one is the other must be too, and October is springtime in Australia. Right on cue her mate popped into view. That’s one thing you can count on in a Fairy-wren – sprightly movements of head and tail and the ability to appear out of nowhere with an almost audible ta-da!

male and female Superb Fairywren
Author: Benjamint444

I started taking interest as the male made a big show of shaking his wings in the direction of the other bird. I’m not sure what it was he intended to achieve by that action. All I know for sure is that the female made a quick exit and never appeared again.

Undaunted, and for no apparent reason now that she was gone, other than the sheer joy of being a Fairy-wren in Spring, the male began to hop higher and higher in the tree, landing each time with a flourish and that little ta-da! Following his antics, my head was automatically lifted higher and higher until the bits of blue on the bird matched the bits of blue in the sky. Funny, I hadn’t actually noticed those bits before.

I lost sight of the bird, but not of the moment. Only minutes earlier my eyes had followed the bent of my spirit. Now they had lifted my heart to the heavens – thanks to a ridiculously small bundle of energy packed inside an outrageously brilliant collection of feathers.

In the poem, “Dust of Snow,” Robert Frost describes being in a similar state of mind when a different sort of bird on a different sort of day in a different sort of place, had the very same impact on his spirits.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

I wonder. What would Frost have done with Fairy-wrens?


About the author

photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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