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Dave Brisbin


My wife has become quite the bird lady.

With the running fountain and canopy of trees that came with the house we moved into last year and the little cloth bags full of seed and hummingbird juice she buys and places in the trees, our backyard has become a theme park with wings. And the birds come. It seems every species in our area has shown up at one time or another.

Watching the birds come and go, eating, flying, perching, bathing, singing, I have my favorites. The finches and hummingbirds, the doves that do more walking than flying…especially when they show up in pairs, and I imagine them mated for life on some sort of date walking together along the edge of the stone retainer wall.

Then I see this jet black bird with fire engine red wings, a show stopper, and think wouldn’t it be great to wait for the perfect mix of birds, then throw a net over the whole thing—one big aviary holding all my favorites. There’d be plenty of room for them to fly and feel free, and I could see them any and every time I looked out, avoiding those days of monochrome sparrows or nothing at all.

But next thought is that the moment the net goes over, I’m responsible for those birds, feeding and cleaning, making sure they were tended if I had to leave town. And the thought after that was that there would never again be the widening smile over a bird I’d never seen before, the wondering where they go when gone, or the returning gratitude of knowing that of all the other yards and places they could have been, the birds chose our yard, our food and water. Chose us.

Without being told, we all know the presence of a friend is infinitely more valuable than that of a prisoner.

Yet we throw mental and emotional nets over our lives and relationships, trying to hold on to just the right mix of circumstances and people, ideal moments real or imagined that we try to capture indefinitely. Moments we use to judge all the other moments, making them less than what they really are: opportunities to be enough—perfectly complete, if we’d allow. But the fear that a red-winged bird may never return or that we’ll never be visited by the bird we see in magazines or hear others talking about drives us back to the enclosure.

And what we do to our moments, we do to God as well—working hard to believe just the right view of theology and scripture that will throw nets over a God who may not otherwise choose our yard.

Those who wrote our ancient scriptures have a lot to say about this. They called God’s spirit, ruach: wind, breath, spirit all at the same time, defined by constant motion and unknowable origin and destination. As mysterious as the wind, but as present and intimate as breath, God’s spirit is always and only available now, is always in motion or is not God’s spirit.

Aren’t all relationships like this? Valuable only as long as choice and mystery are real enough to surprise our smiles and warm every encounter with gratitude?

All the prophets were really poets, not giving us the direct answers or security we crave, but obliquely pointing to the breath of a relationship that holds the security of the net and the freedom of the wind in a single embrace. A non-verbal, non-rational knowing of connection. To try to define God, give him edges to cling to, hold him in the place of our choosing and exhaustingly defend that place is to miss the whole point of relationship—freely given, feely received.

A bird in a cage may brighten a room and a life, but a person or God not free to leave can never be worth the keeping.


  • Linda

    Once again, simply brilliant. Thank u. While reading this in my living room, asked Alexa to play a musical piece. She misunderstood me and instead played a music channel of songs praising God. There r no coincidences. Ever grateful.

    April 3, 2019
  • Linda Larson Schlitz

    Powerful eloquent message Dave! Birds, like the setting or rising sun that you just can’t capture no matter how many pictures you take or how much you turn around to look in every direction you just can’t see it all. You must appreciate every moment you have before it vanishes forever never to be the same again. Keep writing…put it in a book…I’ll buy it 🙂 .

    April 3, 2019
  • Sherry Wilkins

    Holy moly Dave, that’s crazy true!

    April 3, 2019
  • Sherry

    Are you the smartest man on the planet or what?!?! I am mesmerized by your insight.

    April 4, 2019

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