Good Zeal

A Hummingbird Story

hummingbird feedingAs I do around 5:15 every morning, I sauntered out to the back lawn with my Chihuahua, Hector, and gazed Eastward at planet Venus while he sniffed a frog and relieved himself in the grass. Then, cradling my iPad, I stumbled onto the screened-in porch to pray the Divine Office. Despite the heat, it was tranquil there, with flickering citronella candles and a cooling fan whirring overhead. On the floor, Hector chomped on his bone while I settled into my favorite chair.

Since the days had become shorter, and sunrise arrived around 6:45, I transitioned from the four-volume set to the Divine Office App on my backlit iPad. After a sleepless night, I did not want to pray that morning. Just twelve hours prior, my husband died suddenly from a pulmonary arrest. Still trying to regain my equilibrium, and trying to focus, I found that I could not concentrate on praying no matter how many times I repeated the Invitatory. In stunned silence, I stared straight ahead as an automaton. Suddenly, I heard a vibrating sound and I saw a ruby-throated hummingbird hovering close to the screen. After a minute, he zoomed away.

Because I had just relocated to the Gulf Coast two months prior, and had not fed them in years, I could not figure out why a hummingbird was in my yard in mid-August. I Googled and discovered that they are the tiniest of all birds, weighing less than one ounce. In August and September in the Gulf Coast region, hummingbirds begin their fall migration south and fatten up here before flying over the Gulf of Mexico. Their migration over open water takes approximately twenty-two hours of nonstop flying, requiring vast amounts of nutrition, stamina, and energy. I looked up from the iPad and I heard the pulsating again. The little guy was back, hovering and staring, and then soared into the thicket of trees.

I resumed my Divine Office readings and as I finished the Invitatory, the insistent hummingbird returned a third time, visiting longer than before. I exclaimed aloud, “Okay, okay. You win!” I hopped up, stomped into the garage, located some unpacked boxes, and scrounged around until I found the old feeders I brought from Alabama in the move. From the pantry, I grabbed the sugar and mixed up a fresh batch of hummingbird liquor and filled the feeders. Still in my pajamas, and hoping my new neighbors would not see me, I hung one in the Loblolly Pine and one in the Ash tree, then sneaked back inside. I waited and watched from the screened porch. Within five minutes, a dozen thirsty hummingbirds fought for drinking rights.

As I finished my sacred readings, a peace washed over me. A little bird preparing to fly for twenty-two hours reached out to me for food. I felt that my small contribution to his well-being helped motivate me, even though I didn’t believe I had enough energy to do it. Active grieving is exhausting, especially in the first stages. Until the hummingbird approached, I was unable to move or concentrate on anything. I immediately connected this interaction as an example of Benedictine stability: Be consistent, keep it simple, and just do it. Although migratory, hummingbirds embrace traits of stability including endurance, perseverance, strength, constancy, and steadiness.

I also wondered, did the hummingbird come to comfort me, or was that my imagination? Does God send birds to help us? I could not find any documentation, although there are legends and myths. Birds are all over the Bible. There are twelve various species of birds and fowl mentioned in the Bible, but none are hummingbirds. In Matthew 3:16-17 and Luke 3:21-22, as John the Evangelist baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven in the form of a dove.

A bird helped Benedict when he received a tainted Christmas gift. In Chapter 8 of the Life of St. Benedict by Pope St. Gregory the Great, a raven from the nearby woods visited Benedict daily for small morsels of food. At Christmas, a rogue priest named Florentius gifted Benedict a loaf of poisoned bread. Upon receiving the bread, Benedict immediately knew it was tainted and ordered the friendly raven to dispose of it far away where no one would ever consume it. The raven obeyed Benedict and saved others from eating the toxic loaf.

Setting aside time to pray, with coaxing from the hummingbird, helped alleviate my suffering. After I finished the Divine Office, I sat outside for a while and conceded that the hummingbird interaction was a blessing. My husband died but there were time-sensitive tasks to address, people to call, and arrangements to make. Yet, life must go on. As an oblate, I am part of a worldwide network, committed to praying without ceasing. Others count on me and we count on each other, no matter what events, interruptions, or tragedies we encounter daily.

I struggled with routine and rhythm as a new oblate. As time passed, I made a commitment to stability: No matter what, no matter the conflicts and restraints, I prayed even if it was incomplete, late, or abbreviated. That is our Benedictine vow of stability. I didn’t want to scrounge through boxes, get out the feeders, make food, and hang them. I was grieving. But I got up and did it. Also, the act of praying allowed the Lord to speak to me and assure me that He knows my pain and He will help me in my distress. Further, the mundane task of putting out the feeders helped me. The little guy was hungry, and he coaxed me out of the doldrums to get fed. Are hummingbirds angels or spirits sent from God? I am still debating that. Some people believe it to be true. Browsing a magazine yesterday, I saw a painting by local artist Denise Hopkins titled, “Be Still and Know.” It is a ruby-throated hummingbird resting on a narrow twig. Adorned with a halo.

By Jan Vinita White, Oblate OSB

References:
Hacko, Maryellen (20 November 2020). The Ten: Birds of the Bible. Adventist Record. Retrieved from https://record.adventistchurch.com/2020/11/05/the-ten-birds-of-the-bible/
Hummingbird Central. Retrieved from https://www.hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-fall-southward-migration.htm#:~:text=But%20in%20certain%20circumstances%2C%20like,south%20till%20August%20or%20September.
Life and Miracles of St. Benedict, (n.d.) translated by Odo J. Zimmerman, OSB, and Benedict R. Avery, OSB. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN.
One Hundred Bible Verses About Birds. Retrieved from https://www.openbible.info/topics/birds

photo credit: thespruce.com/hummingbirds-of-north-america

 

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