Life in Community

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Life in Community

Little Birds and Little Children

February 19, 2016 by

“Hey! You’re not a bird.”

Jeffrey ignored me and snatched a handful of birdseed from the container, cramming it into his mouth before I could react. He smiled innocently at the sky and informed me that “this stuff tastes like popcorn.”

It was Sunday school and I was the assistant teacher with ten intense eight-year-olds. We had just spent half an hour telling stories about the apostle Paul, and the kids were ready to get outside. I was told to bring along the birdseed because we were heading out to a nearby bird sanctuary. Great, I thought. We can definitely find God in nature – but it is really cold out here and I hope this doesn’t take too long.

I also had no authority with the kids and they wanted to try me out. Fortunately, my co-teacher had more experience than I, and assured me that Jeffrey wouldn’t die from eating birdseed.

The strange snowless January had left last year’s carpet of leaves still intact. They crunched deliciously as the kids shuffled through them. Then suddenly we came to an abrupt stop. My co-teacher took charge: “All right, kids. It’s got to be absolutely quiet from now on. Everyone go to your places and Esther will go around with the birdseed and put it where you want it. Remember, anyone who talks is not going in.”

The kids remembered. They had done this many times before. Each of them had a special place where they could sit or lie down, surrounded by smooth slabs of polished granite. I tiptoed around with my container of birdseed, putting it on their heads, in their hands, or on the rocks around them, as they directed.

“Now get out so the birds can come,” my co-teacher hissed from somewhere behind the bushes. I quickly scrambled away from the sanctuary and sat under a nearby pine tree, waiting to see what would happen.

Within minutes the birds arrived. Chickadees, juncos, and nuthatches swooped delightedly down and landed on and around the kids to have a feast. I couldn’t believe it. Almost every one of the kids was sitting absolutely still and watching the tiny birds enjoy the food. Even my friend Jeffrey had stopped eating the bird seed.

a young girl feeding a bird from her hand

I wondered what those birds were thinking. They had probably been raised to think of humans as idiots who wander through the earth destroying things. But right here, in this place, were these incredible little humans who liked to come and give them food. Perhaps lifelong friendships were being formed here, despite the language barrier.

Was this what the Garden of Eden was like? I’ve always believed that God originally intended us to be much closer to nature than we are now. I don’t think God’s command to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28) meant that we should do everything we can to co-opt it, abuse it, or exhaust it – he created all of nature, and every time we humans misuse it, the results are only negative. But honestly, I think the answer that the environmental movement is searching for is right here: little birds and little children loving each other.

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About the author

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling

Esther Keiderling lives and works at the Woodcrest Bruderhof.

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  • Thank you Esther for sharing your experience with the wild birds and the rapt attention the children showed while feeding these birds. It's important that children learn about Nature, appreciate Nature, and understand ecology. The photo of the girl with a chickadee perched on her finger tips is one kind of hands-on learning activity that can become a foundation of a life long connection with flora and fauna. At one time, Nature Study, was taught throughout much of the public school system in grade school. I'm glad that you and your co-teacher exposed the children to the birds and maybe one or more will be encouraged in time to want to learn more. Keep up the good work.

    Raven Anthony Squire
  • i'VE TRIED SIMMILAR WITH GREAT SUCESS, OFTEN A SCOLDING SOUNDS WILL BRING MORE BIRDS THAN SPARROWS. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

    ANONYMOUS