Swifts and Sparrows

One of the most tender passages in the bible might be these words of Jesus: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father….Even the hairs on your head are all counted. So do not be afraid.

I experienced immense joy at the sight of not two, but four tiny birds this June. Last year Semley church installed swift boxes in the tower and began using ‘swift callers’ in the hope of attracting passing swifts in need of a nesting site as they arrived from Africa.

Last year there was no response, and not a swift to be seen, and this year we were beginning to grow despondent until, late one evening, my husband excitedly summoned me out to the garden to see four little black arcs scimitaring around the church and calling out their own real live cries in response to the recording.

UK swift numbers have plummeted (with a 53% decline between 1995 and 2016) and they are on the red list for endangered birds, so to see those four felt a hopeful, and profoundly holy, sight as they swept speedily around the church.

Those birds made me read that bible passage with a fresh emphasis, not skipping on to ponder how much God loves us humans, but staying with the creatures whose habitats and food sources we have treated with such carelessness. The decline of species is an insult to our creator; the extinction of one of God’s creatures is perhaps what we should now describe as truly ‘mortal sin’.

God treasures our world and all its creatures, attentive to the smallest parts of our interconnected life on earth. So it has to be part of our Christian life to care for God’s world, to work against its destruction and to rejoice at every beautiful, fascinating, glorious aspect of our planet.

‘Every hair on our heads has been counted’ and we ourselves are the subject of God’s loving attentiveness, but we have much work to be getting on with to ensure we treasure the rest of creation too.

Revd Kate McFarlane