I sing because I am happy.
I sing because I am free.
His eye is on the sparrow.
And I know He watches me.
(Chorus to the Hymn “His Eye is on the Sparrow”)
The tiny sparrow. Ordinary. Not particularly noticed or especially revered as, say, the eagle or hawk. Two for a penny the Bible tells us. And, yet, the beloved sparrow is held fast in the eye of God.
Just like us.
And who was it that sang I sing because I am happy with such untethered faith and assurance? Probably not who you might think. Listen to the story, as told by Sylvia Martin:
Early in the spring of 1905 my husband and I were in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle. True saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nearly 20 years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheelchair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy lives bringing inspiration and comfort to all those who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. And Mrs. Doolittle replied simply, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped our hearts and fired the imagination of my husband and me. The hymn, “His Eye is on the Sparrow”, was the outcome of that experience.
We pray for wealth, health, happiness, success. We yearn for forgiveness, justice, an end to our suffering. We so believe that if our circumstances could be different then we, life, things would be different. We ache to see so, then, we may believe.
But, perhaps, it is we who must first believe so then, most graciously, we may see.
When I imagine Mrs. Doolittle, bedridden for all those years, I remember that such faith has no conditions. Did she need to get up and walk to feel herself as free as the tiny sparrow in flight just outside her window? Did she need proof that she too, just as the most ordinary of birds, was held fast by the unflinching gaze of her Beloved? Do we?
Now I can also certainly imagine that Mrs. Doolittle had her moments. There must have been times she felt very lost in her own darkness. Wingless. Trapped on her narrow bed. And, yet, she seemed to find flight…to be free.
How can this be?
Perhaps we find a hint in Jesus’ words in the Gnostic Gospel, The Dialogue of the Savior, “You cannot see the light unless you stand in the darkness.” In fact, how is it we can see the light at all without the darkness? How could Mrs. Doolittle have known the freedom of flight without also having felt grounded and helpless? It would seem to me, that such freedom does not come from the release from darkness but, rather, from standing in, for in such moments, we break out to find our freedom not in spite of, but, because of.
Still breaking out requires a choice on our part. As the Psalmist sings, Open my eyes that I may see, we too, like Mrs. Doolittle, must choose to allow our eyes to focus so we may see, right there in the darkness, the beacon of light closest of all to us.
For, in such moments, the most blessed thing happens…Suddenly, we see the very eye of God looking back at us. Watching over us. It’s why Meister Eckhart said, “The eye with which I see God is the same eye with which God sees me.”
And, though wingless in a dark night…we take flight with the sparrows…
Happy and free.