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Backyard bird teaches deacon lesson in persistence – pray without ceasing

       I spent a portion of my summer watching this female robin gather food for its young.

       The bird built its nest in a large bush near my patio. I would sit there and watch as she flitted about before me gathering worms and bugs. At first the robin was not pleased with me being so close to her nest. How do I know this? For the first day or two she would continually swoop down around my head.

       I remained undeterred, however. I stood my ground (or remained seated, in this case). After all, it is my patio. So eventually the robin relented and we abided by a truce. She wouldn’t dive bomb me, and I wouldn’t approach the bush. Peace!

       However, I could see the robin through the natural breaks in the bush; I could see her feed her three babies.

       At first, as I watched this robin peck away at the ground to gather worms and bugs, I didn’t notice any kind of pattern; the robin seemingly flitted about gathering the food. But as the days passed I began to notice the pattern.

       When the robin flew out of the bush, she always gathered food starting from my right, moving to my left. When the she was directly in front of me (about ten feet away), she would hop up the slight incline of the hill that is there. Then, continuing to move to my left, the robin would peck away at the ground until she was parallel to where I was sitting.

       Finally, the robin would fly the brief space to where the bush was located, but she would not immediately fly into the bush. Rather, she would stay there, looking all about, for what seemed to be a long time, a minute or two? Then, and this was the interesting part to me, the bird would suddenly swoop into the bush, but not into the bush from the front, but from the back of the bush that rubbed up against the house. Shrewd move!

       Okay, what does all that have to do with anything?

       Well, I think it’s a good metaphor for prayer.

       First of all, in prayer we often have our favorites, and we tend to pray them at specific times of the day: morning, evening, before meals, etc. In other words, we have a set pattern. This robin always pecked away for worms and bugs. I peck away at the Liturgy of the Hours and lectio divina. With the Hours, you move through the day from morning till night, just as that robin worked the ground from my right to my left.

       Remember how I said the robin hesitated a while before diving into the bush, just standing there looking around? Now I’m not an ornithologist, so I have to guess that the robin is making sure no predators are around that might follow her to her nest. She wants to make sure she is safe.

       Don’t you and I do that as well? Oh, we’re not concerned with our physical safety, but we are concerned with decorum, with trying not to be intrusive or to be a showboat. Like that robin, we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves. Even at Mass when we’re all praying together, we don’t shout the Our Father; rather, we blend in with the others.

       But I think the best analogy with the robin is when she dives into that nest and feeds her young. Who sees that? Nobody (okay, I do, but only because I made a point of doing so). Nobody, that is, except God.

       What does the Lord tell us? “But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (Matt 6:6)

       One more thing about that robin, she always seemed to be gathering food. I only watched that robin for total of perhaps an hour a day for just a few days. And that hour was spread out over the entire day. But every time I consciously watched her, there she was pecking away for worms and bugs. She kept to the task.

       Well, hello St. Paul! “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes 5:17), says the apostle from Tarsus.

       The late Basil Cardinal Hume, OSB was abbot of Ampleforth Abbey in England before being appointed as Archbishop of Westminster, and in his book “Searching for God” this good Benedictine monk wrote, “Be dominated by the thought that God’s love has chosen you.” 

       That’s precisely why we pray. We’re always trying to stay connected to the God who loves us. And even in those times when prayer seems futile, we persist in sweeping our heart and soul and mind trying to stay connected to this God who is actually so near to us.

       Just like that robin staying close to her young.


Deacon Mark Plaiss teaches in the Department of Religious Studies at Carmel Catholic High School in Mundelein, Ill. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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