Feed the Birds
by Joel Haas
February 17, 2015
Snow and sleet passed through Raleigh last night, leaving an inch or two on the ground. Hardly epic by New England or Upper MidWestern standards, it was still enough to cancel school and send neighborhood kids out with sleds, cardboard or cookie sheets to find a suitable hill.
Moving water is much less likely to freeze and burst pipes, so I had left the pond pump on in the back garden. Looking out the kitchen windows this morning, I saw nearly 20 robins crowding around a small, as yet unfrozen area of the pond. Standing on bird tiptoes, they moved as close to the edge as they dared, dipped their beaks for a quick drink and then hopped back to land.
As I watched the birds shiver and drink, I was reminded of the late Rev. George Hale. Father Hale, as most people called him, was a fourth generation Episcopal priest. Balding and blessed with a genial round face, Father Hale looked like a cliché of a priest, somebody sent by a Hollywood casting agent to play a role.
When I first met him, George Hale was nearly 80 and long since retired from decades as rector of St Timothy's in Raleigh's northern suburbs. He had founded several Episcopal schools and been a force in local conservative politics. Now, he was “priest emeritus” at my parish, Church of the Nativity (Episcopal) with our rector, Rev. Diane Corlett.
“Paradise,” Father Hale would often preach, was a word derived from an ancient Semitic language meaning “garden.” He did not expect to be issued a harp and a spot on a cloud. He expected a shovel, wheelbarrow, and a place to work; a place where he would plant, and then rest to consider the beauty of the seasons in his part of paradise.
Mother Diane would tell me and other parishioners after some of these sermons, “You know there is absolutely no theological basis whatsoever for George's vision of heaven.”
“Whatever,” we would think. Father Hale's vision certainly seemed better than harp playing ad infinitum.
Anyway, back to the robins at the frozen pond.
Once, Father Hale told me theology was very simple. Love God and love one another. The way towards that did not require constant study in old texts. “Just do at least one good deed every day,” he told me. “Feed the birds,” he said. “Everybody can at least do that.”
So it was that I took a few pieces of bread, crumbled them, and lurched outside in my robe and slippers.
As I flung crumbs along the pond side and out onto the ice, robins scattered as though swept by a strong wind.
I watched as the birds assembled again to peck at the bread and water.
Then I said a prayer for the repose of the soul of Father George Hale.