WorshipWeb: Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

Finding Our Way Out

By Karen G. Johnston

I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward… I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love, rather than what I fear.
—Terry Tempest Williams, in Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

An earnest six-year-old once informed me that hummingbirds must have nectar every ten minutes, so I knew the situation was urgent. I had walked into an empty, old house that was not entirely empty: a hummingbird, trapped inside, was frantically trying to get out the quickest way it knew how: follow the light, head for the sky. Yet window panes would not yield.

The front door already open, I opened another wide, hoping to increase the chance of escape. The bird, its wings a thrumming blur, moved away from the window. For the briefest moment, I thought it might find its escape.

It did not. Instead, it flew further into the house, drawn to a different window. I climbed awkwardly on the back of a couch next to the window. When I reached the high sash, I beheld the hummingbird: a worrisome lack of motion. It was alive, but exhausted.

I took the bird in the nest of my two human hands. As I cupped my hands around this tiny, sentient being, it yielded. There was not much else it could do.

Such is the case with surrender: it is the last thing, often the only thing, available. And so we give ourselves to it. We fear it is our end. Sometimes—with grace or luck—we find it is our liberation.

I walked that bird to the outside, stopping at a tall, branch-laden bush. I stuck my hands into its depths and opened them wide. In the time it took my heart to skip a beat, that bird jumped into the nest of the bush, then into the world beyond.

Audio of "Finding Our Way Out"

Listen to Rev. Karen read her reflection.

Surely this was a time for exaltation—yet I found myself sobbing, surrendering to a crest of emotion I could not name then, still cannot name now, but could only ride and allow to flow through me.


Spirit of Life and Love, may we all find our way out of the walls that keep us in. May we find our way out into the world that holds our collective liberation, so tender, so dire. May we—at birth, throughout life, and in death—surrender with humility and curiosity. May we be reminded of what we love, rather than what we fear.

About the Author

Karen G. Johnston

Rev. Karen G. Johnston (she/her/hers) is the Senior Minister at First Unitarian Universalist Society Burlington in Vermont. Before becoming a minister, she spent 20+ years as a clinical social worker....


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A vibrant green broad-billed hummingbird sits on an outstretched human palm