When life seems to be running off the rails like a train wreck, it’s a good time to focus on homely things – like chickens! I wanted chickens for years. We moved to the country in 2002, have plenty of room, and, hey!, eggs are Biblical. “What father will give his child a scorpion when he asks for an egg?” My husband wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of raising chicks, so for years I lobbied and he just laughed and shook his head. Ah, but persistence pays. He asked me what I wanted for my 75th birthday last March. I didn’t miss a beat. “CHICKENS!” How could he refuse? So we began the grand chicken adventure. We bought six little pullet chicks and I set them up in a Rubbermaid bin in our garage with a lamp, a feeder, and a water dispenser. The grandkids were charmed and named the chickens. Sadly, one, Raptor, died so Larry went back to Tractor Supply and bought me four more bringing us to nine. As they grew, the children and I took them on “field trips” in the yard to let them experience the world and get socialized by being picked up and petted. Meanwhile, my husband, like the good carpenter St. Joseph, built me a coop. We transitioned them to their new home and they settled in.
We were letting them free range until the villain, Reynard the Fox, carried off Pidgie, leaving not a trace. We only identified the culprit later when he came back to visit one morning and again a few days later in the afternoon. The free ranging days were over. We kept the chicks cooped until the evening when we came out to supervise and say our rosary. Since Larry and I finished the chicken run, they are enjoying more freedom.
Now, what do the chickens have to do with the spiritual life? Well, first of all, they are silly and squabble. Think of Jesus shaking his head over his dull-witted apostles. “Have I been with you so long and you still don’t know me?” he said to Phillip. Do you think he laughed a little as he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” He knew perfectly well they were squabbling about who was the greatest. Actually, two of our chickens constantly argue about who comes first in the pecking order. Whopper often runs flapping to go head to head with Buttercup in a daily challenge over who is boss. Like the apostles!
Another thing chickens love to do is wallow in the dirt. They dig holes and roll and flap and get dust all over themselves. When they climb out of their holes they shake a cloud of dust that reminds me of Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen. They love it! Sometimes four or five climb into the same hole until it looks like a crowded hot tub. The difference between us and the chickens is that they visit the dust spa and enjoy its pleasures to clean themselves up. It rids them of bugs and protects their skin. We, on the other hand, wallow in dirt and sin for the guilty pleasures it brings.
One of our chicks, Bonnie, is a wanderer. Like the prodigal son, she wants adventure and often goes off around the back of the house all by herself, a dangerous activity since it’s near the woods. She puts herself in harm’s way. The fox may very well be watching for his dinner.
Now a hungry fox eating a chicken is just what he does naturally and by instinct. But we often put ourselves in occasions of sin deliberately, almost daring Satan to attack us. If you know when you go to a certain place or spend time with certain people you will likely sin, you should run the other way at lightning speed. But like Bonnie, who loves to peck for bugs in the compost heap, we like to muck around where we shouldn’t.
Since March, I have enjoyed communing with my chickens. I wonder, did Mary have any at her home in Nazareth? Did Jesus, who cried over Jerusalem and wanted to protect His children like a mother hen protects her chicks speak from experience? Did he go out every morning, like I do, to collect the eggs and give the chicks a treat He saved from His breakfast? Did he watch the chicks running hither and yon, and did He laugh at the bossy hen establishing herself as queen of the roost?
We don’t have a rooster, but perhaps Jesus did. Maybe his prediction that Peter would deny him three times before the cock crows came from his memory of the family rooster welcoming the rising sun. He could, on the other hand, have said Peter would deny him before the sun sent its first rays into the east.
God’s world is a catechism. It teaches us about the wonder of creation and how much God loves us. He didn’t have to fill our world with beauty and amusement. He didn’t need to make flowers whose scents delight us or paint the sky a brilliant blue instead of a drab brown. Creation sings God’s glory reminding us of His beauty and goodness!
Living in the country offers so many reminders of God’s love. As I look up to the Massanutten Mountain to the east, I lift my eyes to the Lord. As I watch our bees flying in and out of the hive and when we harvest the gift of their honey, I taste and see God’s goodness. When I hear the twittering of the birds and the clucking of our hens, I hear the voice of God. When I pick up a friendly hen and pet her soft feathers, I’m reminded of a baby’s velvet skin and rejoice in the gift of life.
The great naturalist, John Muir, once said, “And into the forest, I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” After the holy Mass, nature offers some of the most profound moments of meditation for me. Sometimes it’s good to “lose” our minds and simply rest, seeing Christ’s holy face.
If you are anxious and upset, you can hardly choose a more effective remedy than a quiet walk in the woods or a stint on the bench watching a brood of chickens exploring God’s world. Want proof? Come visit us at Camp Kreitzer. Sit with us on the bench to pray the rosary and laugh at the antics of our eight silly hens as they run around the yard pecking and scratching and taking dust baths. They remind us that Jesus longs to draw His silly chickens to Himself. Let us not rebel, but, in humility, accept His love!
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like unto Thine.