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  • Erica Rosi Tham

Bird Room Meditations: Sin in a Bird Room

Quite soon, I'll provide a full update on our adoption. For now, here is the next in our Bird Room Meditations series--an important concept, sin.


Maian is the name of my beautiful yellow canary. Maian means beyond understanding in Khasi, my husband’s language. When I first brought Maian home from the pet store, she was an indefatigable nester. Every morning, I threw twine, bits of cloth, and cotton on the floor near where I sit, and Maian excitedly came for the cotton, her favorite. She was a ray of sunshine, full of joy in everything she did.



Unfortunately, I soon began to notice that despite all of the cotton she was carrying off every day, her nest never overflowed.

While my canaries get specific names, currently Saga, Mr. Robin, Shuti and Maian, I’ve ceased naming my zebra and society finches. There are simply too many that look too much alike. They have simpler names which carry over from one generation to the next. For example, one zebra finch who was missing some feathers on the back of his head loved to come every day for twine, so I named him Buddy. He passed on many years ago, but his ancestors, those who also lack feathers behind their heads, continue to come for twine, so I say, Thanks for coming, Buddy Bud, ancestor of Buddy.

Among my society finches, I have a beautiful singer who is named Spotty Head because of a large white spot on his otherwise brown head. Because I love his song and believe he is more intelligent than some, I tend to notice what he’s doing. And then one day I saw it.

Spotty Head swooped to Maian’s nest, grabbed some cotton, and flew away.

Now Spotty Head never came to get his own twine or cotton each morning, so this situation seemed unfair. Since I cannot be in the bird room for many hours of each day, I knew I could do nothing. But my estimation of Spotty Head had lessened, and during the next several days, I watched with annoyance as he stole from Maian while she blissfully and unsuspectingly left her nest in order to get more cotton from me. At last, I said aloud, you’re the thief, and as I said it, I reconciled with him in my heart. My logical mind thought, of course, there will be a thief in every room. He’s our resident thief. After accepting this, I appreciated his thievery as intelligence. These days he has become a grandfather among his clan, and I am sure to meet future Spotty Heads in the coming generations.



Do I consider Spotty Head’s behavior sinful? Of course not. However, my perception of the situation, my frustration and subsequent acceptance based on the idea that all rooms have thieves, show that I myself live in a fallen world, and I know this to be true.


These days the concept of sin is coming under scrutiny while some try to create a new form of Christianity which is free from guilt and judgement. Isn’t everyone happier without guilt and judgement? Well, let’s take this question to the ancestors of the birds now in the room.

We return to the Garden of Eden, the biblical story in which God created the world in 7 days. He created the heavens and the oceans, then the land and the animals and lastly a man and a woman. In this story, the early ancestors of canaries, zebra finches, society finches and doves lived in perfect harmony until the day that Eve listened to the bad advice of a snake, and she and Adam together ate the forbidden fruit, the only fruit in the Garden of Eden that God had told them not to eat. After that, everything changed, not just for Adam and Eve, but for all creatures. Sin had entered into the world.

Whether a Christian interprets this story literally or figuratively, the essential idea is this: the world was perfect, but because human beings decided not to obey God who had generously given them everything except one tree, paradise was lost.

This does not seem exactly fair to the ancestors of the canaries, finches, doves, snakes, other animals or even the human beings who came afterward and had nothing to do with that first choice. However, we are all the descendants of the firstborn, and we share their attributes.

For many years, I struggled with the concept of suffering until my husband joined a bible study and through him, I met a woman, Karen, who would often say, we live in a fallen world. At first, this phrase puzzled me—what to do with it? Analyze it? Yet as the words echoed in my mind, I began to find peace within them. We live in a fallen world is a useful phrase for learning to accept the world as it is.

It is actually better, more healthy, to accept the world than to spend one’s life trying to pretend it is a place where pain, disease, betrayal and conflict do not exist or believing that humankind can or will somehow solve all of its problems within anyone’s lifetime. History tells a different story—again and again.

What is sin, exactly?


I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate for I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Paul, 1. Corinthians, Ch. 7


These words were spoken by one of the early leaders of the church who was, by that time, living an impeccable life of faith and service while suffering persecution. His words show, quite plainly, what sin is and what it feels like. It is the tendency to do things that are contrary to God and thereby contrary to peace, hope and love. This human tendency arrives in us during childhood.

Does this mean that Christians believe people are naturally ill-natured and rather hopeless?

On the contrary, it is a place to start. Whenever we want to heal, we have to begin by admitting that there is a problem. This is the basic prescription used to treat addiction, and most self-help books will encourage you to recognize the nature of your thoughts or actions as a first step toward changing them. The word “sin” has become equated with guilt and judgement by those who are judging Christianity, but the story of sin only begins in the Garden of Eden, according to the Christian faith. It is transformed into a story of profound forgiveness and sacrifice in the life of Christ, the son of God, who suffered and died to save the world from sin.

Sin is only a beginning, a recognition of the world and our flaws as they are. It is not only a good concept in that it helps us change; it is truly the foundation of self-awareness.

What happens if we accept the idea that sin does not exist? Human beings are fine as we are, made in God’s image. All we have to do is love each other.



That sounds pretty nice.

But it does not answer the question of why people suffer or why some people are unabashedly mean. It does not encourage introspection. When we feel frustrated with ourselves, knowing we have done things we did not want to do, even things we hated doing, such as yelling harshly at a loved one, we are left with no reason why.

Worst of all, if we learn only that we must love each other, minus the concept of sin, we are faced with a conundrum. Like the birds in the bird room, we each exist in a limited field of perception, and with our language skills, we assign values to things and actions by comparison. There is a dead stop, a slow walk, a fast walk, a run. There is a large feather and a small feather. There is hyperactivity, laziness and all the energy levels in between. As creatures of language, it is impossible for us to understand anything without comparing it to something else.

All we have to do is love each other. Well, what is love? If we are not sinful, what does love mean exactly? It might be the opposite of hate which, since no one is sinful, we would never experience.

Ultimately, this well-intended philosophy provides exceedingly vague guidance and a cursory understanding of God. If you feel drawn toward Christianity, avoid such shallow waters. There is so much more to be learned and experienced.

Some people believe that the creation story in Genesis is literal, true down to the letter, while others believe it is figurative or symbolic. My choice is to put aside any argument which is not necessary to my developing relationship with God. Literal or figurative, the creation story says this to me:

We live in a fallen world.

We do sin, but because we are aware that we sin, we have the ability to correct our bad habits of thought, word and action. From this place of awareness of ourselves, we can choose to grow and become children of God. We can choose to bring kindness, empathy and hope to those around us. Though we may stumble often, every occasion is a chance to learn and reflect. The life of a Christian is a full-spectrum existence in which we experience the worst in ourselves, the best in ourselves and everything in between.

With this awareness, as time passes, we become more and more convinced that we need to call on God to be with us and help us. While we might be able to partially overcome depression or addiction with the help of our friends, we feel drawn to something far better than mental re-wiring. Paradise was there once, and it is in our nature to want to return to it, to want to return to God. Just as the birds are drawn toward their migrations, we feel the call to return to the place we came from. In God’s world, everything began with paradise.

In A.A., a new member stands at a podium and says, Hi, I’m Tom, and I’m an alcoholic.

Today I say, Hi, I’m Erica, and I’m a sinner.

Sinner is not a terrible word, a harsh judgement or a stigma. It is simply the truth.


As it turned out, Maian had a peculiar flaw of her own.

She didn’t like to bathe.

Most birds love to bathe. Every day I put 4 smallish bowls on my water table and 3 additional bowls underneath the table for those who prefer less company. As soon as I pour the water and return to the place where I sit, the entire flock arrives and 4 finches together will be in each bowl with others on the rim drenching and splashing each other while the canaries come one at a time and take an entire bowl to themselves.

Every day, as Maian came to me to get her cotton, which Spotty then stole, I observed that her feathers were becoming less lustrous. I wondered if she was over-exerting herself despite her energy and her joyfully domestic manner. Somehow, the idea that Maian was not bathing did not cross my mind.

Then it just came to me. Could it be? Is she the first bird I have ever known who does not bathe? After a couple weeks of careful observation, my hypothesis proved correct. Well, Maian, I said to her, looks like you’re a dirty bird. But unlike thievery, I decided that this problem could be solved—with a spray bottle.

I rarely interfere in the lives within the room, but in this situation I knew it was best for her health. I guessed that though the bath water was lukewarm, she was feeling sensitive to it. She was certainly a princess.

I sprayed Maian lightly, avoiding a direct hit, and after doing this a few times a week for about two weeks, she was cured. These days, she dives in with the group, and her feathers are gorgeous.



Was my dirty canary a sinner? Of course not, but in my relationship to her, I have been reminded that all of us, humans and animals, are capable of odd, arbitrary choices that are not good for us, and we need some extra help to change our ways.

When we understand sin and we understand that we are living within the limited perception of our circumstances and our human minds, we can see the wisdom in asking God to come into our lives. There are certainly times when we get stuck in a habit of thought or action and we need some divine intervention to help us snap out of it. There is also the fundamental truth that there is a larger universe beyond the language and senses of a human being. We need the help of the being that sees the perception of all creatures—humans, lions, birds, whales—while having full knowledge of the nature of the earth, the elements, everything.

We accept sin to begin again every time we disappoint ourselves. We put our hands together to pray to take the next step and, with God’s help, begin to see our lives as so much more than what we can see on our own.


Erica Rosi Them

Please consider visiting my English language website if this interests you. Any purchase of a course or a class will help us fund our adoption and just visiting always helps with Google search results. You can also donate here.


Commentary


“Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if he were you.” Dallas Willard


I like how Erica wrote of the sin in the garden, and how we all share the attributes of the first born. King David expressed it this way in Psalm 51:5. He penned, “Lord, I have been a sinner from birth, from the moment my mother conceived me.” King David is also simply explaining the nature we have inherited, which is like what Spotty bird displays in his thievery. It’s that part of us that puts ourselves in our Providers place, rather than trusting our Provider and going to Him for the cotton and twine that we need.


As Erica explains, recognition of our sin, or our need, is a place to begin. But consider taking this a couple of steps back to more of what God wants us to recognize, as is laid out in our Genesis story. First we see Adam and Eve happy with God in the garden. They were enjoying a trusting, living, laughing, loving life with God and all of His abundant provisions - even with the given command to forego that one tree. What else does God wants us to recognize? Well that’s pretty clear - there’s a thief in the room, in the garden, a thief who is about stealing life and he does this by casting doubt and playing to our ego. And what is the crux of the doubt and thievery? The thief whispers, “God is holding out on you. You can’t trust God; he doesn’t have your best interest at heart. You need to look out for yourselves. In fact, God’s holding out on you as a power play.” This thievery is still going on. Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by this thief, and we are tempted daily by this thief. It is important that we recognize that there’s a thief in the room who is all about stealing our cotton, our Jesus and his provisions, our love and joy and all that is good. If we don’t recognize this, we just keep trying to build our nests with cotton that keeps disappearing. For Maian to get free and really build her nest, she would need to recognize that there’s a thief in the room and resist him. We sometimes say that ignorance is bliss, but think about the work Maian goes to day after day, for so little result, because of her ignorance.


When we recognize that we have fallen for the thief’s deceptions, and recognize the cost to our souls, and recognize that there’s an abundantly loving Provider who’s been in the room all along, we begin to receive His love and loving provisions, and learn to love and know this Provider who’s been with us all along. It’s in this “getting to know you” place with our loving Provider, that we start really building our nests…. our Love nests, with thankful hearts for the cotton and twine He provides, and… we become diligent in watching out for the sneaky thief and chase him away.


The yellow blur is Maian :)


For years, I’ve struggled with feeling inadequate, which is a comparing gig. I’ve known the deals with the thief in the room, and very much recognize my spots, and the temptation triggers for me. I gave my life to Christ many years ago and began this journey of becoming like Jesus, and there has been much good. My heart has grown in love, and many things of old aren’t big challenges for me anymore… there’s some overflow love that pours out pretty easily. Yet alongside, I have some stuck places and I’ve continued to wrestle with this besetting spot of inadequacy in my soul. My way of trying to work through this, has been one of reading my Bible, listening to good sermon messages, spending time in listening prayer, and serving where I’m called. All these things have been and are good practices and have mostly been soul filling… I’ll explain in a minute. I’ve also worked to pay attention to when I get off track and sought to come back to my provider for help, guidance, and assurance, and He always graciously shows me the way, giving me more cotton and helping me re-fluff my nest. So why have I continued to struggle? I believe it’s because at the crux of things… I’ve also believed a lie…a deep-set thief lie that it’s all up to me. I can tell you that I KNOW better, but the lie is in there. In that, I’ve believed that if I could just by like my strong-willed disciplined friends who hold on to right thoughts more easily about our Provider…thoughts about the truth of who He is and His love, then I could get free from this up and down feeling struggle that steals my joy and peace. In other words, at the heart of things, there has been a striving in me to become, and I’ve believed I’ve failed in my efforts to some extent, or else I wouldn’t battle this inadequacy. In part, I forget about the “becoming” aspect of this journey toward Christlikeness, and in that, I need to remember and be more gracious and patient with myself, but there’s another important piece about becoming that we need to look at.


A little boy I know had a temper tantrum one day. He was so angry when he couldn’t have his way that he threw a fit, and then literally, threw a rock at his home’s front door and shattered the glass. His little 4-year-old self was surprised that he had the strength to break this glass, and then he was scared because of what he had done … the thief whispered, “now you’ve done it, you’ve really blown it this time.” Of course, he had to own his action, and there were consequences, and he learned that this behavior was not good, but what this little guy ultimately needed after all of this, was to rest in his mother’s arms and know he was deeply loved despite his spots…his spots, his tantrum, his failing, none of these were the last word. If his mother had not forgiven him, if she held a grudge and stayed angry and shamed him, or if she neglected to respond and enabled him, his little soul would not flourish and become trusting and free. In fact, it would ultimately be harder for this child as he grew to trust that His Provider was there in the room, providing for him daily. But held in his mother’s arms, broken, but not abandoned, loved beyond measure, provided for when least expected, he softens as he tentatively looks into his mother’s eyes for assurance, for restoration, and it’s there that he sees the love and receives it. In this loving relational space, he is able to trust his Provider and grow in becoming more like His Provider. There’s a becoming that only happens in our souls, when we rest in the love of our spotless lamb, the one who takes away the sin of the world….the one who makes His face shine upon us and who is so very gracious to us. We become more and more like Christ our Provider when we come to truly know in our core being that we’re beloved by Him, and we only know this through experience. Think of how many times we read of Jesus going off by himself to be in the quiet with the Father, our Father, in listening loving prayer… to receive that face shining upon him, and of course to hear what to be about too. But knowing all the right things and doing all the right things doesn’t fuel or heal our souls. The way of Jesus is the way of relational restoring redeeming loving life with Him. Our loving and living flows best from this place.


Erica saw her beloved Maian’s dirty feathers, and more importantly, she knew the damage this lack or fear or ignorance in her sweet bird would cost her. So what did Erica, Maian’s provider, do? She picked up a spray bottle and helped her precious bird into the living waters that restored her luster and life. Maian became gloriously gorgeous! The Provider was providing. How many times have we been provided for, and not recognized what was going on!



Our Provider is providing for us daily, and longs for us to see and receive His love and loving provisions, and He longs for us to become glorious in His love! Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal (now and forever) life.” John 4:14


Hi, I’m Judy and I’m a beloved daughter of God.


Hi, I’m Judy and I’m a sinner.


Hi, I’m Judy and I’m becoming who Jesus would be if he were me.


Judy Wiles


The following is a Khasi Christian song. I think it's beautiful, and I often listen to it while sitting with my birds in the morning as I toss the twine and cotton out for them.

Watch it on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SqGVZFhUgiY


Only with Jesus


World challenges, world full of change

The friends that I love they can’t console me

Worldly pleasures, oh they don’t have any value

Everywhere I look there are only difficulties

Only Jesus can help with the battles

On my path


Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

My soul is right

Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

My soul is satisfied


Lord Jesus is the friend beside me

In the middle of the storm only thou console me

When worries press against me near to you I come

You are there for the destitute

Lord to me cling with strength

If in the ocean I drown

Do spread out your hands


Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

My soul is right

Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

Only with Jesus

My soul is satisfied

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