The wife in the coupleship who serve as Bethesda Workshops’ alumni directors, Shane Oakley, is an avid birdwatcher. She has the apps and binoculars, a great backyard full of birds, and the interest and patience to spend quiet hours watching and listening. As much as I like the idea, I’ve never been captured by the hobby.

Nevertheless, I definitely have a very special connection to birds, just in an atypical way. A few years ago I became very interested in hawks, specifically the red tail hawks that appear on the tall church steeple across from my house. During several challenging years, a hawk seemed consistently to materialize when I most needed a sign of God’s presence. A hawk is, in the language of spiritual direction, a “consolation” for me, and their appearances are uncanny. Far from random, an emerging hawk might be on the steeple or in the sky above me as an encourager, a supporter, a sustainer, a visionary, a comforter, a symbol of hope, or a soothing of distress – always needed, sometimes highly anticipated. Hawks regularly bring delight to my heart in such a powerful way that some time ago I began to document the sightings and what they have meant to me. Over a hundred typed journal pages chronicle the consolation of the hawks, and my phone is full of pictures of the majestic birds. They still visit or appear for me often, and above all else, my hawks remind me of the constant presence of a fiercely loving God.

This spring a second bird has emerged regularly to visit me: a brilliant redbird who has built a nest near my front porch. A dear cousin first noticed the redbirds, the Northern Cardinal variety, when she visited in March. At first I didn’t think much of it, although I had never noticed any in my yard before.

As the appearances of redbirds became more pronounced, I started to watch for one, and once again I realized that a redbird was showing itself consistently in connection with a certain fresh loss I was experiencing. Just as with the hawks, many times when I was hurting, a redbird appears in a way that feels to me clearly spiritual. Redbirds enjoy a long association with visiting those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, and they are said to be a reminder that the beloved is well and sending greetings. A rhythmic quotation associated with these winged messenger goes, “When a cardinal appears, an angel is near.” It’s a statement of faith that God is present in both loss and new beginnings, and this is a season of both for me.

Painting of redbirdsI have been so captivated by my red tails and have talked about them so much with a dear couple who have been lifelong friends, that about a year ago they gave me a small bronze sculpture of a hawk so that I’d never be without one. She rests on a small table at my front door, and I connect with her as I come and go, especially on days when I want/need a live hawk in the sky and don’t see one. When I recently told my friends about my connection with redbirds and how much comfort I get from them too, they gave me a beautiful watercolor of the exact redbird that appears to me, which had been painted by a woman from their church decades ago. These gifts mean that if a winged messenger isn’t visible at whatever time I’m longing for one, I need only to look around my home and see that presence. Holy wow!

Whether it’s birds or rainbows or whatever might be meaningful to you, I believe that God is always showing a loving presence if you are mindful enough to be aware. In fact, a redbird has appeared on the brick pillar that marks my driveway and has stayed with me as I’m writing on my front porch. Watch for the signs that God is offering you, as well, and I’m certain you’ll recognize them.

Marnie Ferree