Shirin McArthur

prayerful pondering

Birdfeeders and the Spiritual Life


dsc_3396-cropWe’ve still got hummingbirds here in southern Arizona, despite the shortened winter days. It turns out that some species stay here all year long. Unlike the stereotypical late November in the northern US, we are not awaiting the first snowfall and seeing our breath become frozen fog when we walk out the door in the morning. Many of us are still walking around in short sleeves on any given afternoon.

However, culturally, Christmas has arrived here in the desert, too. Santa, sleigh, and reindeer in the malls; holiday parties; snow-laden commercials—we’ve got them all. In the hectic bustle of the season, there is plenty to keep our attention pulled away from what’s right in front of us, each and every day.

I recently refilled the birdfeeders around our house. We had let them stand empty when it was too hot to be outdoors, listening to birds sing and watching their antics. The birds didn’t go hungry, I’m sure; they just had to range further afield. These days we’re ready to draw them here again. It didn’t take long; in just a day or two, birds realized our feeders have been tended again.

In a sense, the birds are like us: they make their daily circuit, checking to see what’s been refilled, and often gorging themselves when fresh, new seed or sugar-water has appeared. Our circuit, however, is very different: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, various online news channels. We check each place to see what new thing has arrived for us to gobble down, digest, and integrate into our lives.

A friend of mine posted recently about something that is a challenge for me as well: dipping into these online feeders first thing in the morning. It sets the tone for the day and, given the tone of what we as a country have endured (and continue to endure) this year, this is a problem. How can we possibly be God’s instruments of peace and love in this world if so much of what we gobble down is angry and divisive?

Even those few articles (and more posts) that speak of love and support can be a distraction. We can pretend that liking something is the same as taking action to bring love into the world. But we need to do more—and to do that, we need to be firmly rooted in our spiritual lives. Modern wisdom teachers—many of whose words we can find online—are helpful, but God needs to come first.

And so, in this liturgical season of Advent, I am renewing my commitment to more intentionally choosing which feeders I visit, and to making God-time my first stop of the day. I might miss out on some of the birdseed (our online feeders fill so quickly, with new seed constantly flowing in!), but there will always be more. I’m also a firm believer that when I do show up at a certain feeder, what I need to see will be there (including, just two days ago, the fact that I’m going to be a great-grandmother again!). Spirit has worked that way plenty of times, and will do so again, I’m sure.

Meanwhile, why not take a few moments with me to appreciate what’s right in front of you—whether it’s a hummingbird or a nuthatch, an owl or a pigeon. Take some time to get still enough to become aware of God’s ever-loving presence within you. Feel it flow through you. Then share some of that ever-flowing love with those around you, throughout the day.


Author: Shirin McArthur

I'm a spiritual guide, retreat leader, writer and editor.

6 thoughts on “Birdfeeders and the Spiritual Life

  1. Myself and so many others are trying to deal with the issues you address here. I have not yet figured out how to stay informed and yet not let the news world-both cyber and otherwise- drag down my spirit on a daily basis. Your wisdom in lthis piece was so badly needed. Thank you. Let love and caring for our fellow man win !


  2. Loved this metaphor, Shirin. I too have been guilty of going to those places to be “filled” these last weeks, before my time with God. Not a good idea, or a healthy habit to cultivate. Advent is a perfect time to recommit to eating the healthiest food first, so that perhaps the junk doesn’t look so appetizing, or necessary.


  3. Thank you Shirin. Lately I’ve been missing the days “the nightly news” and printed newspapers. The days when we intentionally set out to discover what happened in the world over the past 24 hours. Your post has inspired me to approach the news “feeder” in this manner as an advent practice. I will turn off my phone notifications and resist the urge to peek during the day. I will feed from nourishing sources during those moments of craving information.


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