My heart in hiding stirred for a bird.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The Windhover”

It’s so predictable it’s almost funny. Almost. Every year, like clockwork, the Pacific Northwest changes from a sun-saturated wonderland of fragrant evergreens and sparkling sapphire waters to the muted season of fall-winter-early spring, in which the dull and besetting haze of low-lying grey clouds stubbornly refuses to lift—pressing my spirits down with an unrelenting drive of rain. The correlation between the presence of the sun and the presence of joy in my life is so direct it’s embarrassing. 

Blue skies, floating wisps of clouds, and brilliant sunset hues? Anything is possible. Heavy grey skies and nothing but rain for months on end? Hope is a distant dream and I want to sleep. Seasonal affective disorder is real, but each year I hope that it won’t be—not for me. Please, God, isn’t it possible to have some reprieve this year? I asked mid-October, sensing that the seasonal shift was coming. I have lived with clinical depression for more than 10 years and am managing it fairly well, yet the added weight that comes with a 6-month span of impoverished light feels too heavy to bear at times. 

The Feathery Miracle
There is something else that arrives with the season’s changing tide: a feathery miracle with wings known as the Golden-crowned Sparrow. He has flown south to the more temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest after summering in Alaska. His tiny body is covered with the hues of our rainy season—all black, grey, and brown except for his head, which is crowned with a small yellow stroke of purest golden sunshine. I was staring out my kitchen window one dark morning, trying to summon the energy and inspiration to write, when I heard it—a three-note melancholic cry that mirrored my own heart’s struggle to rise.

Though slight and unassuming apart from his bold corona, the Golden-crowned Sparrow announces his arrival each fall with a haunting three note song just as the rains begin. The Audubon Society describes his tune perfectly: “Song consists of 3 descending plaintive notes sounding like oh, dear me.” (Kaufman, Ken. “Golden-Crowned Sparrow,. Oh, dear me indeed. When I first heard his plaintive cry, something in my spirit lifted. It was as if I had found a friend who was perfectly echoing the bittersweet song playing on repeat within my own mind: “1-2-3”; “Oh-dear-me”; “Where-is-hope?” I ask as the long ache of days stretches before me. For there is no joy apart from hope. It has been several weeks now that the sparrow and I have poured out our hearts each morning in song and supplication. And slowly but surely, the answer is coming: “Soon-you’ll-see.” 

Emily Dickinson described hope as “the thing with feathers,” and I believe she was right. (Dickinson, Emily. “Hope’ is the thing with feathers.” Maybe this is why Jesus invited us to consider the birds, how they live each day as a song of gratitude in utter dependence on their Creator. “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus said,  “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 they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:26-27). 

The Message of the Bird
Birds are visual reminders of the faithfulness and tender care of God. They teach me the art of effortless dependence, a lesson I need to learn many times a day. So with each day that passes, I listen to the birds. I lean heavily on the blessed assurance of all I cannot yet see. I remember the sound of hope, and with it comes the echoing whisper of joy. The presence of the Golden-crowned Sparrow in the greyest of seasons has awakened a singular vow within me: When the song of sorrow threatens to drown out the soft melody of hope, I will open my window, listen for truth, and consider the sparrow.

On one such sorrowful day, my husband hugged me as I told him with tears running down my face how hard it is to overcome depression this time of year. I was afraid of being buried alive again under the weight of inexplicable sadness. Suddenly, the Golden-crowned Sparrow’s cry pierced through my lament as he repeated his 3-note call so persistently that I began to feel angry. I was not ready to engage hope or the possibility of joy, yet the bird insisted on it over and over—deep calling out to deep. 

“I think that bird is trying to tell you something,” said my husband. I frowned, cried, and laughed in quick succession. As I surrendered to birdsong and my husband’s embrace, the mental fog lifted and I began to see the world around me in more nuanced colors. I remembered that if a sparrow could sing boldly and bravely in the grey and rain, I could too. Perhaps joy, then, is knowing how to paint a watercolor wash of gladness right across the sky, with just three notes. We paint with the colors we are given, after all. And in this season, I am painting to remember what I’ve been given: crowned gold for hope, sky blue for joy, and forest green for the gifts only rain can bring.


Consider the Birds 


Consider the birds, said our Lord,
so I do. This morning the birds
are chorusing a song of triumph
with earnest joy—heralding
a victory I have yet to apprehend.

They sing as ones whose very feathers testify
to invisible currents of grace, floating
from branch to branch, insisting
on full-throated praise—as if
they know how the Story ends.

Each day it is ours to choose
between song and silence, thanks and despair.
This day, I give myself to the evidence
of things unseen: birdsong in the wind;
a heavy heart lightened; a hope that beats its wings.


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