on hens and pharisees
We had another rescue this week.
And again, it was the chirping that drew me to the chicken coop. I'd been out behind the greenhouse weeding between the cosmos and sweet peas when I heard that little distress call. At first, when I rounded the greenhouse and the chicken yard came into view, I thought maybe I'd been mistaken. There was a chick, all right, but it looked safe enough standing there with its mother. But right then the baby tried to get underneath the hen, and I saw a peck.
You don't expect that from mother hens. They're supposed to be the protectors, the shielders, the ones who huddle over those tiny bodies and keep them safe from all harm. I've seen hens do that to each other--focus in on a weak or sick chicken and peck it to death--and it always infuriates me. But I'd never seen a hen do that to a baby chick. Could I have been wrong? Was she, perhaps, simply trying the help the chick get underneath her?
The chick took a few wobbly steps backwards and looked up at the hen. Just as it was dawning on me that the odd discoloration on the side of its little head was blood, it stepped forward to try again to burrow beneath the hen's wing ... and she reached down and gave it another vicious peck against the head.
Right then and there, I understood the fury that drove Jesus to overturn the money tables in the temple. He saw His people walking long miles with their sacrifices and mounting the steps to the temple, only to hesitate as they approached the door. Their need to worship brought them to that door, but it was their trepidation about what awaited them that slowed their steps. The Pharisees--the religious leaders--should have welcomed them in with open arms and made their arrival a time of celebration. Instead, they fleeced the sheep. They pecked at their offerings. "You think that's a worthy dove? I beg to differ. I see a mark there. This one won't do--you'll have to buy an acceptable dove from my friend over there."
The temple should have been a place where sojourners and worshipers were safe. It should have been a place of giving. Instead, it was the abode of thieves, who seemed to take great delight in pecking the defenseless.
If you want to know what the barnyard equivalent to the overturning of the money tables is, it's this: I screamed "Hey!", threw my trough to the ground, raced through the garden and around the side of the chicken yard, yanked open the door to the coop, dropped to my stomach (and I won't describe what I laid on to do so), and reached out the open door and beyond the ramp, scooping up the dazed chick just as the hen was readying herself for another bloody blow.
He didn't protest at the feel of my hand. I think the poor thing was in shock. He let me inspect his head on the walk up to the house, and let me wash both sides with hydrogen peroxide when we got inside. The hen had pecked him so fiercely that his little baby feathers were completely gone on both sides, right down to the skin, and both sides had suffered gaping wounds. I'm sure he would have been gone with another blow or two. After dabbing the cleaned wounds with neosporin, I gave him a sip of water from a teaspoon and called Tera in to help me set up another box. She brought up the heat lamp and enough wood chips for a thick, cushy layer. We filled an orange gelato cup with water and a green gelato cup with a combination of rolled oats, farina and quinoa, and then set the little guy down in the box. Despite the drama of the day, he seemed to like his new surroundings. He walked the four corners, pecked at the wood chips, and stepped in his water. But I didn't want to let him go just yet. And when I reached down to scoop him up again, he hopped right in my hand.
I cupped him, first, making a dark cave. He liked that for a good long time--ten minutes, maybe--and when he finally poked his beak between my fingers to see what was happening outside the cave, I stroked the back of his head with my thumb. He gave a soft, chirpy purr at that, and in short time, just like babies everywhere, his teeny eyelids grew too heavy to hold open. He lowered them halfway, and then I watched them dip, dip again, and close.
It's been almost a week now. His feathers are just starting to grow back in. He eats out of my hand. When he's lonely, he chirps to get my attention, and when I respond and open the door to his room, he quiets down and waits for me to come and get him. He still likes being cupped but what he likes even more is when I hold him up against my cheek and drape my hair over him. It's a substitute for hiding under his mother's wing. Maybe it's a poor substitution, but it's all I have. What that mother failed to do, I will do. He needs it. He has an inborn need to be enfolded in softness.
Much like people.