A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Are you chicken?

A Reflection on God’s love and runaway chickens

by Philippa Winch

by Philippa Winch

The trouble with chickens all began when I was just a child. My Aunt and Uncle owned a home on what could have been described back then as a bit of a “lifestyle” block. Their neighbours on either side of them, had fields containing sheep. My Aunt and Uncle also had a creek that ran along the back of their property where a number of eels resided. Over the years, my Aunt, Uncle and cousins had a variety of pets – perhaps however, the ones that made the most impact on first arrival - were nothing more than tiny little feathered creatures with a whole heap of intelligence!

Their “lifestyle” block represented in some ways the “Good Life”. My Uncle set about creating a large vegetable garden that grew a wide variety of produce. The next step in the scheme of things was to invest in a whole squadron of egg-laying chickens. With this in mind, my Uncle cornered off a section of their property with wire netting and erected a makeshift wooden coup. Part of the pen was fenced off from the front of their property by a brick wall made from intricately patterned bricks that were designed in such a manner; it was possible to look through them.

Having found a good chicken supplier, the day was set for the chickens to arrive. Little did my Aunt and Uncle know that within the first 30 seconds of the chickens arrival – their lives were about to be turned upside down!

You see, as soon as the poultry were let out into their new coup, it was clear that these were no ordinary chickens – they were miniature houdinis in disguise! Having laid their escape plans in next to no time, the chickens then set about putting it into action. Finding that the fancy bricks cornering off one section of their chicken pen were the perfect escape hatch, they set about hopping out of the holes. The race had begun and what my Aunt and Uncle found they had on their hands was nothing but a grand scale chicken run!

It wasn’t long before my Aunt, Uncle, cousins’, neighbours’, children and no doubt a cat were joining in the chase. I could well imagine that even the eels may have been considering this to be their lucky day! The only ones that seemed completely oblivious of all the fuss were the sheep in the paddock next door despite the fact that the chicks (who had discovered the over-grown field was the perfect hide-out) were busy threading their way through the maze of grass the sheep paddock presented.

It was around this time that a Catholic brother rode down the road on his bicycle. It was a common sight to see such gentlemen as my Aunt and Uncle’s home was just down the road from the famous Mission Vineyards in Taradale, Napier - known for its Catholic history of making wine as well as priests. Eager to enlist any help possible, this unsuspecting gentleman was soon recruited in the fun.

Something needed to be done and fast before all the chickens completely escaped! Thankfully the Catholic brother, who had been raised in the country, had a few tricks up his sleeve that he was able to employ in such circumstances.

Bundling up the mother hen (who had to do nothing short of pilates to try and squeeze through a hole in the brick wall and then had the same type of speed as an unfit middle-aged jogger) he placed her back into the wire cage that the chickens had arrived in. This was then positioned in the paddock next door in the hope that any run away chicks may hear the cry of their mother and come to their senses.

A loyal few hearing their mother’s plight, returned. Needless to say, the others saw the opportunity to set out to see the world as just too good to resist and decided to take their own chances of learning the lessons of life.

My Uncle soon fixed the chicken problem by blocking the chicken’s access to the holes in the brick wall and this incident never happened again. However it did teach some valuable lessons.

Interestingly enough, the Bible is full of examples of people who were just like these chicks!

You’ve all heard the story of Jonah and the whale. Jonah is one of these examples. In a nutshell, the word of the Lord had come to Jonah that he was to go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it because of its wickedness. Jonah deciding that there was absolutely no way he wanted to do something like that, instead booked a fare to sail to Tarshish to run away from the Lord.

It’s fair to say that Jonah was “chicken” about the prospect. Of course as we all know, a storm happened while they were at sea and Jonah ended up being thrown overboard. What happened next made the story the famous tale it is. A whale swallowed Jonah and there Jonah stayed in the whale’s stomach for three days and three nights. Let’s face it; this wasn’t exactly five star accommodation! Long story short, Jonah realised he was better off obeying the Lord’s word and went to Nineveh.

This is quite a dramatic example but the message for us today is the same as it was back then. The Lord has a plan and a mission for each of our lives. When we are baptised, we are anointed with the oil of chrism. Your chrism is your own particular gift to carry out, your call to holiness and ministry. God gives us our own free will to run in the opposite direction. But if we are to come back into right relationship with the Lord, at some point in our lives we are going to have to set out on the path that the Lord has for us. The trouble is, it takes longer for us to do this - if we make a dash for it; then if we had just obeyed the Lord’s will in the first place.

Jonah however, is not the only “run-away” in the Bible. We are all familiar with the story of the Prodigal Son - the young man who demanded his inheritance and then spent it all on wild living. You see running away doesn’t necessarily just comprise of running from the things that the Lord has in store for us but quite often running towards things which may not be of the Lord. I’m sure that there is more than just a few of us who can relate to being enticed by all the world has to offer. As we all know, long story short, the plans of the Prodigal Son all went to custard and eventually the Prodigal Son arrived home worse for wear but no doubt wiser from the experience.

The Bible also talks about a variety of things that become lost and are searched for by people desperate to find them. There’s the story of the shepherd who left his ninety-nine sheep in search of the one he had lost. When the shepherd found this sheep, he put it on his shoulder, carried it home and rejoiced.

There’s also the woman who had ten silver coins and lost one. She lit a lamp, swept the house and searched carefully until she found it.

The message that Jesus clearly conveyed through the parables of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin is that God still loves us even when we’re lost. He’s very much like the mother hen in the sheep paddock; He calls to us and waits patiently for our return.

Just like my Uncle safeguarded the chicken pen so that the chickens couldn’t escape again, the Lord promises his protection around each of our lives. We simply need to yield to the Lord’s direction in life and bloom where He has planted us.

Of course, you may be wondering what happened to my Aunt and Uncle’s chickens.

Years later two chickens strutted around the backyard of my Aunt and Uncle’s place. A male rooster with a strut that could only be matched by the king of Rock and Roll himself – “Elvis the Pelvis” and a hen who was named Crystal (although this hen didn’t need a glass ball to inform her that the real fortune lay with being the last hen left!) They were no longer kept in a coup but had free reign and the rule of the roost. As well as being the only ones who survived the odds, these chickens also served as an important reminder of that well-known saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they….dispatch.”

It only goes to show, often the best way to true freedom occurs when we stay within the boundaries we are given.

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