I recently met a friend of a friend who owns a greyhound dog, and not her first. I met Pam for lunch and listened to the joy that flowed from her stories about her beloved canine family member. “Jesus eyes” was one of the physical traits that she loved.Now I must confess that I’ve only stood in the close-by presence of five different greyhounds. Only five greyhounds have stared back at me as I knelt closely, staring quietly into their eyes. And I have to tell you, I think that Pam may be right. Compassion, love and forgiveness stare back at me each time I make close-encounter eye contact with a well-cared-for greyhound.
In contrast to greyhounds, I’ve stood quietly in the presence of hundreds if not thousands of Orange-crowned (OC) Warblers, mostly one at a time. My first identification of an OC Warbler was at Pedernales Falls State Park. It was a cold and rainy winter day. I was huddled in one of the bird blinds with Joan and Don, two experienced birders that volunteered for many years at this beautiful park. “Look” Joan quietly called out, “because of the rain, this OC Warbler is dripping wet and showing its orange crown!”
Joan and Don went on to explain that I might never again see this warbler's orange crown because under nominal conditions, their orange-crown patch is rarely seen. They were mostly correct. One other more recent sighting, when quietly walking and birding in the rain at Brazos Bend, I again spotted the orange crown of this beautiful little warbler, again when it was dripping wet.This rarely sighted orange-crown is not why this little bird is my favorite. It has more to do with the character of Christ. The OC Warbler does not have Jesus eyes. But it does seem to model the best of Christ-like behavior. Or maybe the behavior of my grandmothers; sometimes I get the two confused.
Birding field guides frequently refer to the OC Warbler as drab; as plain; as unremarkable in its plumage. I don’t think these published birders know what they are talking about.OC Warblers are quietly active in their day’s work. They don’t seek high up places; they don’t chatter; they don’t get into squabbles when surrounded by other Aves that appear and act quite differently. They seem at peace with solitude. And they quietly mind their own business when in an Aves crowd.
This Christmas season the only gift I offer, and the only gift I wish to receive, is to stand silently in the presence of an OC Warbler. This beautifully plain bird needs no ornate plumage. It will never call out “Look at me! Look at me!” And when not mating, this little warbler works quietly and alone, gleaning a day’s harvest that appears to be more about needs than wants.The OC Warbler's gift is its reminder of what life can look like when modeled on the behavior and character of Jesus; not modeled on the rule books that can be derived from cherry-picking quotes from religious texts.
I frequently hear people bemoan that the story of Christ’s birth seems lost in the commercial business of Christmas. I don’t so often hear good folks bemoan this loss of focus due to the current traditions that focus on the giving and receiving of man-made stuff.But the Christ-like character story is not really lost; it’s just mostly hidden. And it seems we humans mostly seek out this Christ-like character when our life is undergoing off-nominal conditions; kind of like sighting the orange-crown on a rainy day.
But it is on the nominal day, during an ordinary day-in-the-life, that the Christ-like character of the OC Warbler is modeled. And there is nothing plain about it.“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul.” Matthew 11:29