What I Learned About God Through My Pet Bird

My bird, Charlie, died last month.

Charlie was a beautiful little parrot, jam-packed with personality. Most days, my shoulder was her perch, from which she would plant kisses on my cheek. She loved having her picture taken, and my friend taught her to pose. When we would laugh, she would laugh—and she had a knack for knowing when the punchline of a joke was coming and would always laugh at exactly the right moment.

She also loved to snuggle. She would fly over, sit with us, wrapped in a hoodie on the couch, and watch movies and Mass with us. When my son would practice violin, she would be the metronome perfectly chirping out the beat. If he stopped practicing after only a few minutes, Charlie would squawk at him until he would start practicing again. My son used to joke that she was a music teacher in a previous life. At night, when we would turn out the light, she would say, “Good night. I love you.” She was full of life and love.

In the days after her death, I found myself surprised at the depth of my grief. The areas of our home where she had perched seemed to emit a palpable absence. I reminded myself that she was not a person. That didn’t help at all. The fact was, she was still a cherished member of our family for over a decade, and while she was only six inches long, she constantly made her presence known. I decided to just sit with my grief in prayer.

As I prayed, St. Ignatius’s thoughts on creation came to mind. In the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God, he asks us to reflect on “how God dwells in creatures: in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring upon them sensation, in man bestowing understanding” (Spiritual Exercises 235) and to consider “how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labors. Thus, in the heavens, the elements, the plants, the fruits, the cattle, etc., He gives being, conserves them, confers life and sensation, etc.” (236) Ignatius further advises that we are to “consider all blessings and gifts as descending from above.” (237)

Charlie certainly was a blessing from above, and she taught me about God. If God can pack so much love into one delightful little bird and if, as Ignatius indicates, God has created and continues to create all of creation as gift for us, how immense is God’s love for us?

It’s worth spending some time with that thought: God’s love animates all of creation, all the time, and all of this wondrous creation is a gift to us!

Have you ever had a pet that taught you about God’s love for you?

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