Lessons Taught by a Robin


“Hope” is the thing with feathers —
That perches in the soul —
And sings the tune without the words —
And never stops — at all —”  [2]

Just outside our window and nestled within the leaves of a cherry tree, a young robin sits atop a nest.    Since it takes about a month from the time the eggs are laid up to when the fledglings leave, she vigilantly broods over her young.   Throughout the dark of night, and all during the day she remains, steadfastly keeping her young warm and protected.

It was earlier this week when I first spied the robin brooding over her nest.   Here I was, weary of this pandemic and its physical distancing guidelines, sick at heart as to the state of our democracy and fearful for our children and children’s future in the face of ongoing ecological degradation.   But nevertheless, the little robin just outside my window continues to do her stalwart best – despite predators, harsh weather, and an uncertain outcome given the fragility of her young.

Wrote Emily Dickens, “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers – that perches in the soul.”  Author and Rabbi, Naomi Levy suggests that most life questions are actually soul questions.  When we are lost and confused; when we feel ‘cut off’ from the best part of ourselves; when we are despairing and wonder if we’ve hit bottom; while not dismissing the intensity of the pain – could this be a manifestation of the soul’s yearning?  [3]

It is now noon, and still the robin remains.   Looking at her steadfastly atop her nest and protecting her young come what may,  I realize that what she needs to do – is nothing remarkable in and of itself.   But what is remarkable, is that she does it moment after moment, hour after hour, day after day.    Watching her, I think of God’s face brooding like a bird over the watery abyss from the Book of Genesis.   The Maker of Souls who continues to hover over all creation.   Giving substance to hope, that perches in the soul.

[1]  Image – Barry McArdle, photographer

[2] Emily Dickenson, “‘Hope’ is the Thing With Feathers,” from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson.

[3] Naomi Levy, Einstein and the Rabbi, (New York: Flatiron Books, 2017)

Author: Jessica McArdle

These are dark and corrosive times. As a writer and ordained minister with the United Church of Christ, I use prayer, poetry, reflection, and scripture to re-align our embattled spirits with the uniqueness and urgency of our God-given identity and call.

6 thoughts on “Lessons Taught by a Robin”

  1. Well, thank you so much for the encouragement and the symbol of the stalwart soul of God sustaining us….and we shall be like that robin, continuing to do all that we can do in the face of this time of uncertainty

    Sending you love, Jessica, Jan


    1. I would have never considered the robin as the symbol of “the stalwart soul of God sustaining us,” but it is an image that gives hope in these times. Thank you, Jan.

  2. I think the resilience of the fragile is such an important image for our time now. Thank you. I too have been watching robins but the gatherers — the males I suppose. I do not know where any nests are and I imagine they like it that way!

    1. Thank you, Maren. Ever since the robin’s appearance, I have been thinking much of, as you put it, “the resilience of the fragile.” Given this administration’s contempt for humility, integrity, and simple acts of courage, the likes of the small robin stand out all the more.

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