The month of May is an exciting month for many people. It is marked by special holidays like Mother’s Day and Memorial Day. Graduations take place. And we begin to transition to summer. Another hallmark for many homes is the welcoming of birds back to their yard. Where I live in Wisconsin, I welcome four little hummingbirds to my feeder who come quite often for a drink of sugar water. A robin has laid eggs in a small nook of my church edifice, and many birds eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at my feeders. I enjoy ending the day in my backyard, watching the birds come and go.
May is also Mary’s month. We crown the Blessed Virgin Mary in our parishes and homes and renew our devotion to her with hymns and prayers. Is it possible that bird watching and Marian devotion could be united? Did Mary watch the birds come and go in Egypt and the Holy Land? Did birds come and rest on her hand and eat? Though I am a Marian theologian, I never would have considered this very idea, if it were not for Venerable Maria of Agreda, the mystic responsible for the four-volume Mystical City of God. In my daily reading of this spiritual classic as a podcast in a year, I recently discovered Mary’s relationships to the birds. Whether it is true, and I hope it is, I must keep in mind much of Maria of Agreda’s Mystical City of God is the fruit of her personal meditation and prayer.
During difficult moments for the Blessed Virgin, birds would often come to bring her joy and happiness, as if they knew her spirit needed to be lifted. Maria of Agreda writes: “Sometimes, in order to afford Her sensible relief, innumerable birds would come to visit Her by the command of the Lord. As if they were endowed with intellect, they would salute Her by their lively movements, and dividing into harmonious choirs, would furnish her with sweetest music, and they would wait for her blessing before again disappearing.” I can testify, that if I had a bad day, watching the birds and taking part in viewing God’s creative work, brings me great joy. And an added happiness if I spot a bird that isn’t a usual visitor.
An experienced bird watcher will be able to identify different calls of birds. The birds sing and we listen, and maybe even experience peace. Maria of Agreda says that Mary spoke to the birds and commanded them to remain with her and praise with her to Almighty God. It’s a reminder to us that everything God has created gives praise to God by who or what it is. It’s why Daniel’s hymn (chapter 3) can say, “Ice and snow, bless the Lord.” Or appropriate here, “All you birds of the air, bless the Lord.” Maria of Agreda also remarked that the birds would bring flowers to Mary. Not only do birds know that flowers ought to be brought to Mary, we bring her flowers at the Mary altar, place flowers atop her head, or plant a Mary garden.
Another interesting tidbit from Maria of Agreda, “It also happened that in bad weather some birds would come and seek the protection of the heavenly Lady, and She took them in and nourished them in her admirable innocence glorifying the Creator of all things.” These birds are quite smart to find shelter and safety near the Blessed Mother. But that is the case for all of us too. We fly to the intercession of Mary often, especially in the bad weather of our lives. We visit many shrines, light candles, and bow our heads in prayer with common prayers or litanies, knowing that she is joining us in our prayer to God. We seek refuge and safety in her arms just as a child runs to his mother in difficult moments.
The next time you see birds at your feeders, allow it to be a reminder of Our Lady, who apparently had a great love for birds, and was a birdwatcher just like you and me. Like the birds, may we sing the praises of God and fly to Mary’s protection in times of trouble.