Feathered angels

In the early morning, as my beloved and I circle the local gardens in our walking shoes, we routinely hear one of the most beautiful sounds I can imagine: the song of the magpie. In my years away from Australian shores, it’s the one sound I missed. And yet to evoke the magpie’s song in words … I can only take heart from the English ornithologist John Gould: “To describe the note of this bird is beyond the power of my pen.”

I am not a bird man. I can barely spot the difference between a raven and a common koel. That said, I have a friend who photographs birds. Through his images — drip fed over the years into my email in-box — I’ve begun to appreciate just a little of what he sees routinely. It’s another world up there! A mostly hidden world of colour and song. At least now I look.

Clearly, the Australian poet Michael Leunig has been looking much longer than I have. On this beautiful autumn day, his prayer of thanks for these ‘feathered angels’ is one worth praying.

Dear God,
We give thanks for birds.
All types of birds.
Small birds and large birds.
Domestic fowls, migratory birds
and birds of prey,
hooting birds,
whistling birds,
coloured parrots
and dark darting wrens.
Birds too numerous to mention.
We praise them all.

We mourn the loss of certain species
and pray for deliverance
of endangered ones.
We pray, too, for farm birds,
that they may be released
from cruelty and suffering.

We give thanks for eggs and feathers,
for brave, cheerful songs in the morning
and the wonderful, haunting,
night prayers of owls,
mopes, frogmouths
and all nocturnal fowls.

We praise the character of birds,
their constancy,
their desire for freedom,
their flair for music
and talent for flying.
May we always marvel
at their ability to fly.
Especially we praise their
disregard for the human hierarchy
and the ease with which they leave
their droppings on the heads
of commoners or kings regardless.
Grant them fair weather,
fresh food and abundant materials
for building their nests in spring.
Provide them too with perches
and roosts with pleasant aspects.

Dear God, guide our thoughts
to the joy and beauty of birds.
Feathered angels.
May they always be above us.

x293Michael Leunig, A Common Prayer, Collins Dove, 1990.
The image above is one of those captured by my friend and fellow Baptist pastor Bruce Stewart: “a wonderful visitor to our backyard this past week – the White Plumed Honeyeater.”

5 thoughts on “Feathered angels

  1. Hi Simon, Just to resonate with your delight in the magpie song. I feel they are my sign/sound of hope! They turn up (either heard or seen or both) just when I need encouragement and even when I’m going okay and I always smile and say, “Thankyou!” They are important friends to me (and you and Brenda it would seem!!) and SO many others I’m sure!

  2. Magpies are amazing creatures. They happily communicate with me in the garden. Clearly asking for more water in the birdbath, as I water the vegetables. They delight in playing in water. They love to follow me when I’m digging, to eat the insects I unearth. They are faithful partners and parents, who both bring up the young. They remain in large family groups – bonded by their songs. I have witnessed them mourning together over one of their number who died by accident in a tree. Over 20 of them gathered, and spent hours sitting nearby, sadly and softly warbling to one another. When raising the young, they are grateful for scraps of meat, and will come, asking for more. The babies are comical when first out of the nest, and often pick up small twigs or leaves to use as playthings, to poke into holes, etc. their song is the epitome of joyfulness.

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