Even the sparrow finds a home,
And the swallow a nest for herself,
Where she may lay her young,
At your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.
— Psalm 84:3
A pair of orioles is raising their brood in a nest slung from a branch behind our house. They’re fast flecks of orange, bursts of yellow and black. They snatch caterpillars and moths and little flying somethings and return to delicately lean down, balanced on the edge of the nest, and feed their young. Mother, father, father, mother, mouths open wide, in and out; there’s no time to stop and rest. Fledge, little ones, fledge!
This is pure gift, one we choose to receive through the act of noticing. It would be all too easy to keep our heads down, slogging through the day, doing what needs doing without noticing what needs noticing. It would be all too easy not to care.
This is the great tragedy of our age: the edge of our compassion has all too often become worn down by the deadly sins of anger and pride. We’re overwhelmed by the neediness of the world. We lose something of our ability to care.
Strangely, one of the ways that not caring shows up is in our overwrought attention to supposed big themes and big people. We get tizzed up over what Mr. So-and-So Big Name said, but we don’t hear the pun our child made. Why shouldn’t you watch TV with a bear? Because they keep hitting paws. We think the president is either too strong or too weak (or somehow, both at once), but we miss orioles caring for their brood.
It strikes me that one of the gifts the rural church might have to share with our great big world is the importance of the local and immediate. Rural churches are practiced in the art of knowing one another. Of course, people know each other in the cities. But there’s a way in which rural life depends on knowing one another. We give each other the wave on those dirt roads. Hidy-ho, neighbor! This knowing should not be confused with communion, but it is something. It’s a way of looking at the world that has the potential to see faces before issues, individuals before masses.
Whenever this sort of caring happens, at its heart is the love of God, the king whose altar is not just for princes and priests, but also for children and strangers and widows down to their last mite. At this king’s altar, even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself. The orioles weave their slouching nest. God notices them all and enfolds them into his care.
Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan. He blogs at The Doxology Project, where this post first appeared.