Sometimes blessings are hard to find. Not because life has been terrible but just ordinary. Routine carries on, carrying us along with it: work, driving, cooking, shopping, laundry, Boys’ Brigade. Even simple pleasures can feel routine: that first sip of real coffee in the morning, pottering about doing small jobs in the garden, baking a fruitcake successfully after adapting the recipe. Unsurprising problems add tedium to the mix: a slow to respond computer, a traffic jam, plans confounded. The intimacy of prayer fades as the rest of the day takes over.
But even in the dullness of the ordinary and routine, if we stay attentive, opportunities to ‘stop the world and get off’ even momentarily, may still come our way.
I had one of those moments on Sunday early evening. After a weekend of catching up domestic chores, indoor and out, I was finishing off lots of little tasks in the garden – tying up errant growth of roses and clematis, pulling up salad leaves gone to seed, deadheading the buddleia – and wondering when I was going to see some blooms on the flourishing leaves of the summer bulbs I’d planted or the recent geraniums I’d potted out. At a time when gardens should be bursting with colour, mine seemed frustratingly reticent, despite all my efforts.
I’d just harvested the last of the peas and some lettuce for a salad to accompany the nut roast I’d got cooking in the oven when I saw him. Well, it could have been a her actually, I couldn’t tell.
There on the upper part of our water feature, which turned on becomes a running cascade but without power forms puddles unless the sum evaporates them, stood a young thrush (I think). He jumped in the water, just the right depth for him, fluffed up his feathers, and began to wash himself, splashing droplets all around as he wriggled in his watery version of the Twist.
Suddenly he froze. Something had caught his notice and he halted, alert for danger. He looked around then, once he was reassured, started fluffing, washing, and splashing once more.
Then he stopped again, still as a tree. He’d spotted me watching him, creeping closer for a better view. I mirrored his stillness, waiting. He jumped to the edge of the rocks, ready to fly away, but changed his mind, turned around and hopped back down to his ablutions.
Within a minute or two, he was gone.
But for those few moments, I had been absorbed, taken out of my own ordinary world and into his. There was just something beautiful about this commonplace bird, cleaning and cooling off in the evening sunlight There was something joyful in his exuberance, something hopeful in the continuance of the natural world going about its daily business.
And then I remembered early in the week, holding my coffee as I gazed out the window first thing in the morning. It had been raining all night. The garden glowed with the wet. And birds were flocking to it for refreshment, more than I had seen in previous days of hot dry sun. A whole family of blackbirds, sparrows camouflaged against the ground, a young thrush not yet in distinctive adult colouring (maybe my bathing friend), a pair of magpies (there’s joy for you), and wood pigeons, their flapping wings and tree landings heard before they could be seen.
My garden might not be full of bright hues for me but it had plenty of food, water, shelter, and opportunity for these feathered beauties – none of them exotic or outstanding, just ordinary, routine visitors. But they gave me the blessing of a few minutes respite from my ordinary and routine.
‘Consider the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than them?’ (Matthew 6.26)
And it strikes me that if I can look at birds with such benevolence, can feel blessed by their presence when I have no emotional connection to them, maybe, when He watches me, God might find me a source of blessing too, because He loves me. I hope so.