Almost 100 years ago, Dorothy L. Sayers wrote,
“Great bore, Christmas, isn’t it? All the people one hates most gathered together in the name of goodwill and all that.”
To which Lord Peter Wimsey responds, “Bring a couple of whiskies.”*
The rush and bubble of all those people we don’t really know and, let’s be honest, don’t really care to know and all pretending peace and good will. Bring two whiskies!
We just cannot be close friends with our entire extended family. Friendship requires too much bandwidth to have that practice with 8 or 18 people at once. Should you doubt me, you extrovert you, see my “Mapping Out Friendship” from last week. As a Christian who is supposed to love everyone, even the boring ones, I can tend to view boring people as challenges. Or worse, a bad report card on my efforts. They are not.
Family is often a bore simply because someone stopped growing, stopped healing, stopped watching. Let us pray it isn’t us.
Let us do more than pray. Let us watch and pray, as Jesus said.
And what shall we watch for?
Well, I’ve been watching the birds. I know, I hear you, seems so small and insignificant, maybe even childish. But it’s practical and it’s changed me. Changed me so much I did what I often do when I’m changed: I paint. I painted four birds that, simply by being themselves, acted as tiny messengers of God about what I needed to change. You can find prints of these birds in my shop.
Jesus said to keep an eye on the birds because even though they don’t shop for groceries or get two-day shipping, they find food. God feeds them what they need. And they remind us of who provides for us.
“Look at the birds of the sky, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather crops into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more important than they?”
Jesus to his disciples in Matthew 6:26
I watch the birds that come to my bird feeder in order to return to myself, to discover the wonder and curious way God brings good gifts. And watching the birds reveals where I’m in danger of becoming boring.
No wonder Jesus told the anxious people to watch the birds and the lilies. Watch and wonder. Watch and pray. Watch and change. Let me show you how it works.
My favorite bird remains the chickadee, a brave little butterball. The chickadee is always ready to eat. Foraging every day, even through the snowstorms of winter, I have watched their whimsical swooping pattern to our Colorado bird feeder. Now, living along the Squamscott river I hear them and watch them near the kitchen window. They always show up. If I step outside to watch them, they will swoop with interest near my head. They are constantly curious about new things.
If you hear their call, “Chicka-dee-dee”, count the “dees” to determine their message. The more “dees”, the more they are warning their feathered friends: threat level midnight.
And what do these creatures show me?
I’ve seen chickadees when I am most tempted to stop being different, when I want to blend in to be accepted. I’ve seen chickadees when I needed to revive my own curiosity. On the days I’m tempted to become boring, I’ve seen chickadees, on signs, or in nature, in books, or in a painting. Gifts from the Giver of good gifts. When you watch for them, His gifts remind you of the gifts he has uniquely given to you.
I know you can dive too deeply and fixate on birds and signs to replace God, but we don’t want to swing the opposite way either and think birds only belong to scientific sorts, John James Audubon groupies. Birds, ants, lilies, the Son of God told us to watch them. They are messengers from the one who made us. God has sent birds as messengers for thousands of years: a dove with an olive branch to Noah, ravens to feed Elijah, the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove on Jesus. Can you think of others? The Holy Spirit hovering over the waters pre-Eden, like a hummingbird.
So should you find Christmas wearing thin, should you feel bored with it all, I recommend watching the birds. Watch and pray. See what you discover.
Should you like to learn more, if you’d like more practices to watch and pray and grow, you have this whole 2022 to join me and my friends. For 2022, we will talk about the practice and art of friendship. And in the meanwhile, we celebrate Christmas, and try to find fresh ways to love the people who may have bored us in the past.
Rest beside the weary road and hear the tiny birds sing.
That’s what Merry Christmas means: Jesus came down and offered us his friendship, as a baby. Talk about tying his right hand behind his back. Both hands actually. He showed up in a feeding trough in Bethlehem, un-embellished with anything but his birthday suit. And when he grew up he told us to watch the birds. Talk about a supremely un-boring guy. Can you imagine walking around your Christmas reunions with his eyes?
I’ll be worshiping Him a little extra this weekend and drinking some spirits, oh, and watching the birds.
Merry Christmas, from our backporch to yours!
* from Dorothy L. Sayers’ novel, Strong Poison, Chapter 12. This has got to be my favorite Sayers’ novel. I recommend it highly.