Before Meeting on this morning of golden sunshine and gin-clear air – you could have seen straight across to the Isle of Wight had it not been for the big sycamore tree – as we were setting out the chairs, and getting things ready in the kitchen for after-Meeting coffee, we were remarking on the little white daisies that grow among the soft grass on the lawn. Suddenly I noticed that half-hidden among the rather long grass were not only daisies but dozens of sparrows, picking up tiny invisible things to eat from the ground.
Swanage is becoming something of a sanctuary for house sparrows, whose numbers have been declining in this country over the last 40 years or so. Perhaps it’s due to the urban green spaces that dot the little seaside town, and to the limestone grassland, hedgerows and woodland of Townsend and Durlston nature reserves near to where we meet, but they thrive here, holding twittering conclaves in every hedge and shrubbery.
There is something about sparrows. It has been suggested that to the four main Quaker Testimonies (Truth, Justice, Simplicity, Peace) be added new testimonies on the earth and the environment. It would be possible to do worse than use the sparrow as a symbol. I’m not thinking so much of Jesus’ famous remark in Matthew 10.29 as I am of the little birds themselves. There is a joyful humility about a sparrow, a happy industrious simple getting-on-with-it, that would do very well as an example of how we should handle ourselves in the face of our environmental anxieties. Despair doesn’t become us, I think. Our lives are lived in God, and his love – the love that forms the worlds, and the vast interstellar reaches – keeps us, and the sparrows, close to the heart of life and joy. To know this is prayer itself, a love strong as death.
Joseph John Armistead wrote, in 1913,
When work does not turn out as was expected or intended, do not let it depress you. If you are working from a right motive, and doing your best under the guidance of a loving Father in heaven, your work cannot be and is not failure… Remember that the Lord never lays work upon His people that He does not give them strength or ability to perform, and if it please Him in the working out of His great purposes that life shall be sacrificed or cut short in the midst of the work, be assured that the work will not permanently suffer from such a cause.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)