A book of holy teaching

A baby Robin that has just left the nest, photgraphed on our front lawn in 2005

A baby Robin that has just left the nest, photographed on our front lawn in 2005

“If thy heart were right, then every creature would be a mirror of life and a book of holy teaching. There is no creature so small and abject, but it reflects the goodness of God.” — Thomas à Kempis

Our backyard borders on a wooded lot that is part of the property, protected wetlands that cannot be disturbed or cleared.  We are lucky enough to have a variety of creatures who frequent the area, probably for the protective shelter of the vegetation and the creek that provides water most of the year.  I have come to think of them as friends and enjoy watching them season after season.

Most people see the ubiquitous Robins as more pesky than precious, but I may love them best of all because they build their nests in our shrubs, low enough that I can watch as the eggs become hatchlings and then fledglings.  Often I experience the tense anticipation of watching them leave the nest and fly for the first time.  The bird pictured above, however, was the subject of no small anxiety on my part because I felt responsible for it.  I had come around with my camera when it was the only one of four fledglings left in the nest, and it became so frightened it jumped out of the nest, but was unable to fly, its fluttering wings barely breaking its fall to the grass.

I was overcome by worried guilt about having chased the bird from the nest before it was ready.  I hung around in the area watching it from a short distance, whispering prayers that the tiny bird would be protected.  I was prepared to scare away any cats or dogs or other threats, but instead I saw a fascinating drama unfold.  As always when I approach a populated nest with my camera, a great noise had erupted from two birds I assumed were the parents.  The brightly colored male bird hopped along closely beside the tiny young one, as the grayish female bird kept up what I fancied was a continual stream of nagging directions.

Gradually, but without interruption, the male bird led the baby in short hops and very brief flights for a relatively long distance, all the way from the front of our house, across the back yard and into the wooded lot, where I finally abandoned my long watch.  The last I saw of them, the male bird continued hopping alongside the younger one in a clearing, as if giving flight lessons.

When I read this quote from Thomas à Kempis, I thought of the many “critters” I have been watching all these years, especially the young who seem so tiny and vulnerable in a world that is often cruel.  The continual presence of these animals reassures me that God does keep a close eye on creation, and we have much to learn from their ability to survive and thrive.

This post was originally published seven years ago today. You can view the original with comments here.


  1. Lyia

    Thanks for that beautiful account of a baby robin. It made me think of my two granddaughters, Sofia and Emilia. My husband and I keep them every day. They are a gift from God, and so different from each other. I read to Sofia 5 or 6 books everyday. Emilia fights me after two pages. She loves to walk and walks all day long! Sofia is a picky eater while Emilia eats everything. Each one is developing their own personality and is amazing to see them grow. They both love music and movement so we sing and dance and play. Have a wonderful day, Julia. I love your posts.

    • Lyia, how lucky you are to be able to share your granddaughters’ lives! I wish I had the chance to know my grandsons more. You are truly blessed, as are your granddaughters! Children can never have too many loving people in their lives. Thanks for being here.

  2. Susan

    Julia, what a sweet story! I love it!

    • Thank you, Susan! It’s one of my favorite memories. It helps me to have faith that even those things I can’t control are in good hands. 🙂

  3. Wow, what an interesting story about the birds! “Ok, son, there’s no time like the present, to learn how to fly!”
    I hope it worked out.

    • I do too. The next year there was a visiting Robin that seemed unafraid of me, and I wondered whether it might be “my” baby robin, coming back to say hello! 🙂

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