Jesus asks people to do many things in the Gospels. Some of his exhortations are not very straightforward: enter by the narrow gate, bear good fruit. Some seem meant to throw us on the grace of God because, try though we may, we will not obey: judge not, love your enemies, do not lay up treasures for yourself on earth. Jesus says very clearly, directly, and unambiguously, "follow me," but we'll struggle all of our lives to do so.

I decided to grasp onto one suggestion I could handle: Consider the birds (Matt. 6:26). I love that Jesus asks us to do this: Go outside, get off the Internet, watch birds.

Instead of simply sitting on my porch, breathing deeply, and considering the birds that landed in my tree, I decided to read everything I could find on ten birds mentioned in the Bible. (If you knew me, you know I have to make a project more complicated than necessary.)

I really considered the birds. I learned about their mating, eating, and social habits. I looked up what they have meant symbolically across cultures, throughout time, in Christian iconography. I took them seriously as characters in biblical stories. Once you start looking, you will find birds everywhere—in your bushes, of course, but also in poetry, painting, and song. Take for example, Christmas Carols—the partridge, the French hen, the two turtledoves.

I found some precedent for my project in the medieval bestiaries, stories and illustrations about animals included in old Psalters and prayer books. Based in part on verses like Job 12: 7-10—"Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you"—the ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.