Sparrows in the Rafters

By

Like on most Sundays, I attend a local church with my family. This particular day the sun is its normal late morning self, lazy but benignly ruling the sky. The church’s downtown parking lot, littered by the typical urban debris – strewn paper, crumpled plastic wrappers, discarded bottle tops, broken glass, dust, dirt, pebbles and an irregular pattern of infernal weeds poking through the asphalt – is a checkerboard of automobiles. Congregants usher past the surrounding industrial rust and glare of the city into the foyer of the church building, a converted warehouse, now concert venue and coffee bar.

We find our seats and listen in as the pastor, Randy, in his usual eloquent yet listenable style, reads from and speaks of, a splice of New Testament passages pertaining to the provisions of God; lilies of the field, wisdom of lizards, freedom of sparrows, numbered hair follicles, manna, rest, fear, these sort of things.

The overhead fluorescent lighting beating my brow, I begin to feel the tickle of an approaching headache. I look to the brick walls, veined with gray-steel conduit, for distraction from the lights. There, I notice sundry bores in the walls, exposed cinder block, and a tangle of cables, speaker wires and electrical cords clouding the rafters, all so lifeless. And then I see a bird.

It is a summer day, and since our tent of meeting is old, quite unromantic and not at all well-sealed at its uppermost corners, this particular creature, a common female house sparrow, has smuggled her way indoors and is fluttering back and forth in the maze of beams and blown insulation 20 feet above our skulls. I hear its twittering and chattering as it restlessly hops off and on, back and forth, amid the orange steel structural supports, ductwork and rivets overhead.

The pastor, at one point, references the sparrows of the field and the hairs, if there be any, on our heads, but I am too distracted by avian shenanigans — that’s the ornithologist in me, so gleefully alert to birdlife. Randy continues to expand on the difficult-to-comprehend notion of God’s knowing, numbering and caring for humanity’s various tresses, and that of a redstart’s business in its day to day operations, flying, fleeing, roosting, singing, no fear whatsoever of famine, death, loss of home or feather. Then suddenly, as one might hope, I awaken to the irony, the chasm-deep irony, of the occasion at hand: a prime and living parable flitting about our very heads in a suitable and appropriate clash of cosmos and breath, story and fable, words and reality, feathers and flight, skin and spirit. I perch on the Providence of the moment.

How deeply, foolishly and complacently we live in the damnable small fears – fear of tomorrow, fear of rapture, fear of loss, of success, of failure, of being made a fool or of making one of ourselves, fear of fear itself. We are slaves to the self-worthy, self-sustaining creature life and are absolutely worn out from its burden, grief, shame and cold subjectivity. Fear is a living death, death a living fear. Such a prosthetic sanctuary becomes a hovel, a cold, inhospitable and sterile habitat. Can we honor anyone in this or any other life by being subjects to such small and hollow existences? Does such an existence honor God, the one who abolished the small fears in the first place? Do we honor the One who brought to life the life we killed by refusing the command, “Never be afraid”? Perch on the Providence of your moments, looking not for control, but for submission.

To live a day – O, to forge an entire life – that is broad, that is ocean deep, that is gleefully aware of hair follicle number 5008 on our pasty scalps, that is as boundless in bravery as it is trustful of hope. Where courage exists, there is faith nested securely in the fork of that terribly ancient and sturdy Living Tree, honest and pure, as that courage roosts above the domain of earth singing its melody safe and sound at either end of day. No man, no devil, no destruction can rid us of such a perch.

“Never be afraid, then – you are far more valuable than sparrows.” (Matt. 10:30-31, J.B. Phillips translation)

“(He) might also set free those who lived their whole lives a prey to the fear of death.” (Heb. 2:15, J.B. Phillips)

Profile photo of Eric Peters

Eric Peters, affectionately called "Pappy" by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He's a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he's not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he's touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.


7 Comments

  1. evie

    Oh Eric. This is so beautiful.

    I feel like you took all the good words in the world and put them in this post and so I am left with none to describe how it speaks to me on this fearful Tuesday morning. There is sun, there are birds, there is food in the kitchen, there is air conditioning, I have my health and am contented, and yet I am afraid. How?

    And your description of our little Sunday morning goings-on is quite perfect. I am humbled and awed by your descriptive phrases. Write another, please.

    Thank you.

  2. Tony Heringer

    Eric…amen. The phrase “fear of rapture” jumped out at me. It is funny how we all have taken one little word/prhase (rapture/caught up) in 1 Thess. 4:17 and created something never intended — fear of the return of the King. The second advent of Christ is a time that we, like John, should be shouting every waking moment “MARANTHA!” O, come Lord Jesus! Set things to right, bring the Kingdom fully now. Come and wipe away our tears and the fears the cause them to spring forth.

    Jesus’ last line in that portion of the “Sermon On The Mount” always brings a smile and a goad to forget my fretting of things to come: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

    Speaking of trouble…Evie what is up with “Ol’ Black”?

  3. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Eric,

    Beautiful thoughts – and expressed perfectly.

    “Fear of rapture” jumped out at me too. We fear that because we feel like Lewis at the end of The Great Divorce: “‘The morning! The morning!’ I cried, ‘I am caught by the morning and I am a ghost.'”

    That’s so often how we feel about ourselves. Ghosts. Not real. Not solid. Not whole. Not sufficient.

    And definitely not holy.

    All lies.

    We have an enemy who wants to keep us from being sparrows, from being children, from being holy kings, from reigning in life through the One Man. That enemy is the originator of that sometimes very subtle fear-fog that blankets our minds. He wants to keep us from being who we really are.

    Your post, Eric, reminds me to shake off the damned fog and make sure I’m standing up in who I really am in Christ. There has been a subtle undercurrent the last few days going on, nearly at the subconscious level, eroding confidence. It can go back to Hell where it belongs.

    Thanks for the power in your words.

  4. bendavy

    “I perch on the Providence of the moment.”

    Brilliant line. Reading your posts I see the skill and insight that has produced so many masterful songs that resonate with the soul.

  5. Jonathan Gregory

    Eric, Wow! You need to keep writing. I would pay money to read this
    kind of stuff. It is some of the most beautiful use of the language I have read in a long time, maybe ever. The beauty widens the contrast to the ugliness of killing fear. Thank you, thank you.

  6. Peter B

    From the oncoming migraine to the paralyzing fear of everything, to the sweet realization of how ridiculous we are with these worries, you nailed me down. And reminded me that I’m supposed to know I’m free.

    Thanks be to God.

  7. noreen

    eric..your posts and songs are beautiful,,,i believe God used the sparrow because it is unseen many times by us,,,but He sees all at all times,,,

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *