The bluebird box near our little vegetable patch is currently occupied by some newly-hatched nestlings. The parents have been busy with constant flights between ground and box, their beaks filled with bits of this and that plucked out of the earth.
Their protective instincts are in high gear. As I approach the garden they quit the box and begin a series of reconnaissance missions between the apple tree to the northeast and the pecan tree to the southwest. Eventually they grow accustomed to my presence (about 10 or so yards away) and move to a row of barbed wire fencing. They start at the far end and move slowly post to post until they reach the box, and then resume their feeding rituals.
As this has gone on in the garden, a pair of mourning doves has built a nest on the windowsill of the 3rd floor Community Room in our main monastery building. This past Sunday evening, a single egg was laid. Since then, the parents have kept constant vigil to give protection and warmth to the small, white egg.
The protective care has been a blessing to watch, and so reminiscent of how St. Benedict exhorts us to care for one another. In his Rule, Benedict makes special provision for the care of both the elderly and the young (chap. 37). Later, he describes the “good zeal” with which monks should care for one another: we “should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses…” (chap. 72).
I routinely see my monastic Sisters lovingly care for one another with the good zeal described by Benedict, and it’s been an extra gift to observe at close range the protective care of birds for their young. It helps me appreciate anew the tender care I observe (and receive!) daily within the monastery, and it challenges me to practice the “good zeal” of St. Benedict with the same fervor and diligence of a mother bird keeping watch over her young.
Postscript: Those of us who live on 3rd floor have been able to follow the progress – nest building, to egg laying, to incubation – from just inside the window, trying to keep a quiet distance. Sr. Therese took the photo above from about the middle of the room. I’ll try to remember to keep you posted on how things transpire…