by Therese Martin
Like many people, I suddenly started to work from home in March 2020 because of the government lockdowns. I was at home and in my neighborhood all day long. When the weather was nice, I would sit in the backyard during my lunch break. I intended to read or pray, but instead, I often found myself just looking around.
During that time, I began to notice the patterns of the animals. I saw squirrels, chipmunks, and various birds like woodpeckers going about their day. But for some reason, I was intrigued by the cardinals, and I began to notice them everywhere. When I saw one, I felt like God was saying “hi,” and they became a little ray of light in my life.
How did it come to this? I’m not entirely sure. I do know that I was initially resistant. However, I slowly became more open to noticing this little “hello” during this time of anxiety and loneliness.
Over that year, I became more aware and alert. As a result, I began to notice cardinals all over the place. I would see a cardinal mug in a shop window or a decorative cardinal in someone’s yard while out for a walk. Though these were not live birds, I still felt that God was saying “hello.” I needed to be open to a new way of communicating. If I had been stuck in the mindset of “live birds only,” I would have missed these cardinals.
In my life, I know I have a tendency to be very black and white, and I am extremely disappointed and hurt when I feel that others aren’t showing me love in the “right way.” But the Lord showed me and taught me other variations of the same message.
I also learned the songs of the cardinal, which helped me notice their presence even more often. The sound of a cardinal told me that it was nearby. I got into the habit of stopping my walk when I’d hear the cardinal and try to find it. But there were many times when I could not locate the bird itself even though I could hear it. This helped illustrate a spiritual truth I have heard in various ways: just because you can’t “see” God doesn’t mean He’s not there. What other senses can you use?
I also noticed something funny about myself while trying to find cardinals. I would hear the song but couldn’t get a clear sense of where it was coming from. When trying to find the bird, I would always look up into the tall trees. But after straining to find the bird, I would often see it perched in a low bush. A great reminder of humility! Look down!
I have found all of this to be a beautiful analogy of the spiritual life. I have struggled with the idea that God has a particular love for me, and I have wondered if He pays me any attention. This has been even more pronounced after returning to lay life.
Because of this, I have been trying to become more aware of God’s presence, and I’ve prayed specifically to vibrate at the Spirit’s touch (Novo millennio ineunte, Pope John Paul II). My experience with cardinals has helped me a great deal in this regard.
I once heard a story about a woman who was returning to her faith. She would find dimes (small American coins) and felt they were a way that God was expressing his love to her. With some amount of bitterness and resentment I thought, “well isn’t that nice? Good for you. God doesn’t show His love to me.” I also found it strange that she took such a meaning from something so simple. But now I can begin to understand that story because I’ve been experiencing something similar.
St. Therese speaks about the bird trusting that the sun exists behind the clouds, even though the bird cannot see it. Now that we know about UV rays, etc., we have other ways to demonstrate the presence of the sun even when one cannot see it. I feel that way with the cardinals. I don’t need to see them to know they are there once I know their song. And now that I know they live nearby, I don’t even need to see or hear them to know they are present.
During that spring and summer, I noticed the cardinals were everywhere. But then, sometime in the fall, it seemed as though they disappeared. These birds do not migrate. Yet, I did not hear them or see them anymore. Did God no longer care?
As I struggled with my own faith and various wounds, the lack of this sign became more difficult. After all of the gentle reminders of His presence, the absence became harder and harder as time passed. I tried to remind myself of His presence and the truths I had learned, but it was incredibly difficult.
After what seemed like forever, they began to return! I hadn’t noticed before how much Christmas decor features the cardinal. There they were, saying hello to me on a Christmas card from a friend or on the ornaments on my parents’ Christmas tree.
Now I suddenly see and hear the birds again! It’s bitterly cold, and the snow just keeps piling up. And yet they are here. Spring seems impossible, but the birds tell me that it is coming.
Throughout that year, I learned much about the Lord through the cardinals. Have you experienced anything similar? Please share your comments below!
Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says:
“You shall indeed hear but not understand,
you shall indeed look but never see.
Gross is the heart of this people,
they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes,
lest they see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart and be converted,
and I heal them.”
But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.
Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.