The Meaning of Feathers
By: Lynne Hinton
I have always collected feathers. It’s just something I do. In my new book, Pie Town, feathers serve as an important symbol in the story. As I was writing Pie Town, I continued collecting feathers. I found them on paths in forests, along mountain trails, and beside lakes and streams. Each time I found one I placed it near my computer as a kind of good luck charm for my writing. Like people discovering pennies and figuring them for good luck, I have always thought of feathers as some sort of blessing, a sign of good fortune or heavenly approval. However, there’s something more for me about the meaning of feathers. I discovered this a few years ago.
As the pastor of a small church in Albuquerque, New Mexico, I gave both a sermon for the adults and a sermon for the children every week. I usually tried to shape them both around the same Bible story or the same message. One month there were a couple of Sundays that I talked about angels. One week I told the children the Bible story about a man named Jacob who wrestled with an angel. His is the story of a guy on his way home to reconcile with an estranged brother and I told them that angels sometimes help us do the hard work of managing conflicts and finding forgiveness.
The next Sunday I told the Bible story of the prophet Elijah and how he ran in fear for his life until he fell exhausted in the desert, asking to die. I explained how an angel came to him bearing the gifts of food and water and the presents of rest and refreshment. It was that Sunday and with that story that I decided to give away some of the feathers I had collected to the children, explaining to them how I loved to find them and how they remind me of angels.
“In fact,” I said, “When I see a feather, I think that an angel has passed by that place.”
Jimmy, a bright eight-year-old boy who attended church every Sunday, liked feathers too. He took a couple of my long hawk feathers and stuck them in his shirt pocket before heading back to his seat.
Jimmy’s life is a difficult one. His mother, addicted to drugs, is in and out of trouble and in and out of unhealthy relationships. Jimmy was adopted by his great-grandmother when he was still a baby. Sometimes he has trouble concentrating and staying on task. He also struggles with rage. The days before the beginning of the school year that summer when I told them about angels and feathers were especially hard for Jimmy and his great-grandparents.
A few weeks after the angel sermons when he started third grade his great-grandmother dropped by the church. “I walked with Jimmy to the bus stop the first day of school,” she reported. “While we waited for the bus he spotted a feather right at his feet. He believes an angel was there.”
His great-grandmother continued. “He bent down and picked up the feather and asked me, ‘Why do you think an angel came here?’ And I told him, to make sure you had a good start to school. And then,” she said with a shrug, “he had the biggest grin I’ve ever seen.”
There was a pause. I knew it was no easy task for my parishioner trying to raise an eight year old. I knew she was often tired and frustrated and that she was deeply afraid that she would not always be there for her young great-grandson.
“I didn’t tell Jimmy what I really think,” she confessed.
“And what is that?” I wanted to know.
“I think Jimmy and I are going to be okay,” she replied. “I think the angel really came for me.”
And she drew in a deep breath, turned around, and left my office. And as she walked away, I thought I saw a feather drop from her fingers. And it was then that I realized that sometimes we merely find signs of angels but that sometimes, if we’re paying attention, we catch a true glimpse of them before they fall away.
Originally posted here: http://www.avonromance.com/2011/06/07/the-meaning-of-feathers/ on June 07, 2011.