Heart of a Hummingbird
January 6, 2021
“Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. (They are) joyas voladoras, flying jewels…”
I recently saw a photograph online that took my breath away. It was a hummingbird, hovering as they do, backlit by the sun. All the colors of the rainbow were reflected in its tiny feathers. As these dizzyingly fast miniature creatures are very hard to spot, much less to snap a picture of, this gorgeous shot seems miraculous.
Brian Doyle was a prolific Catholic essayist, who died a few years ago, at age 60, after a brief bout with cancer. I have read and enjoyed a great many of his essays. Doyle was, like me, a writer who specialized in the “run-on sentence” (I hate that term, it sounds so critical! “Perfectly lengthy sentence”--that’s better). Someone once said that a typical Doyle sentence began on Tuesday and ended on Friday. But he wove a spell, with his insightful, often humorous, musings on life and faith. I have recently learned that several dear friends also read and love Brian Doyle’s work.
Doyle’s essay “Joyas Voladoras” is often included in literary anthologies. Like its subject, it is a small jewel. Ever since reading it, I have thought of hummingbirds as little hearts in flight. Shimmering, evanescent, beating wildly, streaking through the world at breakneck speed. They visit a thousand flowers in a single day, yet go largely unnoticed.
We live in a world that values bigger and better, larger and stronger. More. Yet I worship the God who created the hummingbird. And maybe, hidden in those rainbow-hued wings, God has a message for me. Perhaps the hummingbird’s beauty is that it is, literally, almost all heart. And maybe, just maybe, that is how I am to live: as if my heart takes up nearly all the space in my body. Just imagine if we could all live with overflowing hearts! Hearts of compassion and tenderness. Hearts that soothe and heal. And perhaps our hearts are meant to beat undetected, our deeds of kindness and mercy done in secret. Because the viewer who matters most, sees them anyway.
As we begin a new year, I resolve to grow my heart, a little bit more each day. The more heart I have, of course, the more vulnerable I will become, open to the pain of the world. But what a way to live! Because the pain is counterbalanced by an ever larger capacity for joy and wonder. So, here’s a challenge for myself (for us?): let us take our cue from the hummingbird. Let us be filled to the brim with heart, and let's spread love, wherever life’s journey takes us.
And so this year, may we each quietly reflect the glory of God through the goodness of our hearts. That, my friends, is how we change the world.