Sunday’s Flight

Yesterday I couldn’t keep my mind on the sermon. No blame to the young preacher who was doing his best to inspire us with the stories of Peter and Paul as examples of imperfect perseverance. But the day was warm and the church doors propped open, which changed the light and the mood. A slight breeze moved through the sanctuary, not enough to ruffle our open hymn books or disturb Sunday-smoothed hair, but it was present and I watched my fellow congregants responding to it, turning their faces towards its cool refreshment.

Then I noticed a small child looking up into the height of the sanctuary, her attention caught. But now it wasn’t the wind, and she wasn’t alone in noticing. Other children spotted what she’d spotted first. Something high up at the peak of an arched window. Something fluttering.

A bird flying inside our sanctuary.

Maybe it came in through an open window or through the propped-open door. It made no sound, just fluttered near a high window. Settled. Fluttered again.

Word passed through the children’s choir and all faces turned up, eyes wide, then a hand, flying up, pointing. There! A bird! Inside!

The Venerable Bede
It brought to mind the Venerable Bede’s story of the sparrow in the hall. He describes how King Edwin of Northumbria took council in 627 as he considered converting to Christianity. One of his councillors described life as the brief moment when, sitting in a warm mead hall on a winter’s evening, you notice a sparrow come in from the storm. The small bird crosses through the space overhead for a moment, then disappears back to the storm. What came before, we do not know, and likewise we don’t know what comes after as the sparrow passes from winter into winter. The councillor advised that if this new faith he was considering might offer anything more certain, it would be right to pursue it.

I first came across that story as an undergraduate English student and the strong and simple image stuck with me, and watching this Sunday flight in our bright sanctuary, I heard its competing sermon. As I watched, the bird flew from clear window to clear window, staying away from the stained glass and looking for a way out. Then for a moment it perched on the traceries, resting, its forked tail distinct and silhouetted, its eye pointed out to the sky.

A swallow then, not a sparrow. A summer visitor, a swooping sky-king who Shakespeare beautifully linked with true hope, swift and elevating. But this was a swallow inside, stopped by all the windows, watching the sky.

Witness
It must seem so close. That sky and that freedom. The small bird persisted against the glass, tried another window, fluttered, rested, tried again. It persisted and persisted and I watched and up at the front of the church, the preacher preached. Perseverance. Witness.

The flight of this church-bound swallow was not beautiful.  But beauty lay in its own clear nature and in its perseverance. Its deep need to be outside was clear. This small bird knew with every feather of its being that it belonged in the sky.

And there’s a third sermon, perhaps. May our own struggles be transformed in the eyes of others into a beautiful witness like this. May grace fill us so that we, too, know our created nature and persevere until we find our way home.  

Author

  • Katie is an Ottawa writer living in Cardiff with her spouse and three growing children. You can also find Katie on Twitter @messy_table.

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