Among the vast carved arches and columns of the chapter seats around the high altar with their prophets and martyrs standing ready like a wooden army, there are two carvings I deeply love. The wood carver included two birds nests carved into the apse colonnade. They are not like all the other carvings because they really look, at first glance, as if they are placed there by birds needing a home. They are not centered nor are they part of the stories the carvings are trying to tell about majesty, power and glory. The birds nests seem to have a different story. They even seem to be placed so naturally that they look like the first two inhabitants of the cathedral nave were it to be abandoned to nature liken the great abbeys of England which, after the dissolution, decayed, fell in and became overrun with grass where floor tiles used to be and trees where windows once stood.
These nests are high on the walls. In this one not only is there a bird perched on her nest but beneath her are eggs. The carver carved the eggs and the bird separately so that a person could actually lift them out of the nest. This playful act of an ancient wood-carver is an act of extreme truth-telling in the art of the cathedral. In amongst all the glory and power is this nod to frailty, vulnerability and nurturing. A mother or father bird on the family nest protecting and warming the eggs is a provocative image for us to see near the altar.
We talk a lot about the stewardship of our money and time and talent. We raise money and we recruit volunteers in church because we must and because it is good of us to give ourselves away when we have been made in the image of a God who does that over and over again. But we were also made in the image of a God whose deep tenderness can be missed in the pomp and circumstance; the hierarchy and the titles, the smoke and the anthems. Having raised chickens for seven years I know how fragile eggs can be. Having been a priest for 13 years I know how fragile people can be. Working in churches in this time, I know how anxious churches can be.
Perhaps being present, like that bird with her eggs; just being with each other in silence – offering warmth without promises, perhaps that is the best thing we can do for each other.