Below is a story my wife wrote regarding one of our recent adventures. She refers to me as “J.”
At the end of our road, there is a fishpond with a tree arching over it. On my walk today, I realized that a kingfisher was somehow caught on the end of a slender branch reaching out over of the middle of the pond (a kingfisher is a type bird, about the size of a crow with a great big beak and a bold crest). He was dangling over the pond about a foot above the water, struggling to free himself to no avail. I stopped to watch him, pain and pity filling my heart as he violently wrestled, but was unable to escape. Weary and exhausted, the bird would rest and pant, hanging below the branch. I surveyed the scene, seeking a means to rescue him, but couldn’t find a way to reach him over the water. Grieved, I went home, unable to see how it was possible without wading into the murky pond of unknown depth.
When J got home from work, I told him all about it. My heart was heavy, thinking of the poor suffering creature with no one to rescue him. We drove down to the end of the road and confirmed he was tangled in fishing line caught up on the end of the branch. No wonder he couldn’t escape–! After obtaining permission from the landowner to be on their property and gathering some tools, we began the rescue mission.
With a wood saw tied to his belt, J slowly proceeded up the slick, wet tree that arched over the pond. When he reached the top, he used the saw to cut the long branch on which the bird was ensnared. Holding the branch, he pulled it toward himself, the bird struggling at the end, until he broke off the section nearest the bird and cast the rest of the limb away.
Once he got the bird in hand, he realized that it had a hook caught in its throat! No wonder it couldn’t free itself! Since fishing hooks have a barb at the end that keep them from backing out, J could not free the bird from its ensnarement.
J then tucked the bird inside his coat and slowly eased his way down the tree, keeping one hand on the jacket to secure the bird.
When he reached the ground at last, I clipped the barb off the hook with some wire cutters and J removed the hook from the bird’s injured, blood-stained neck. With some trepidation, J gently lifted the bird into the air so that it could fly away.
Oh, what joy filled our hearts to see it fly away, released of its agony and suffering! It flew steadily to a nearby tree, where it rested, and thank God, looked alert and healthy. Weary but relieved, we glorified God, picked up the tools, and went home.
THE SPIRITUAL LESSON
Afterward, I thought about what had happened. I was suddenly struck with the realization that the kingfisher was a parallel between us and our spiritual life. We too, are ensnared by the devil and our sinful passions, and no matter how hard we struggle and try to free ourselves, we cannot. The hook holds fast.
It caused me to reflect on one of the Orthodox evening prayers: Be the helper of my soul, O God, for I walk among many snares. Deliver me from them, O Good One, and save me, for Thou lovest mankind.
Our carelessness and sinful tendencies cause us to seize the bait of the enemy, and then we are trapped. But, the good Lord in His mercy, through the prayers of the Holy Mother of God and all the Saints, visits us with divine Grace. For only Grace can clip the “barb” that holds us fast to sin, and thus set us free–to fly above earthly things, as we were intended! And just as we had pity and compassion for this little kingfisher, how much more infinitely does God seek to rescue and save every soul from the snares of the devil!
But we cannot be freed without assistance, just as that poor bird could not free himself, try as he might. So, we cry out for help to the Holy Mother of God, the saints, and the Lord Himself; we partake of the sacraments; and we attempt to enter into the mystery of humility.
Now, when I walk past that pond, I will always give thanks and praise to God, who used us to help set the bird free and gifted us with this example of what happens in our own spiritual lives. Every time I hear the “rattle call” of the kingfisher, I’ll be reminded to pray and call out to God and his saints for help, just as the bird called out to us.
Glory to God!