Good buddy Mat Hartig built a Treadle Feeder for my hens. It's a beautiful contraption, as you can see. You fill it with food. Mine's filled with "scratch," an irresistible concoction of corn and other sundry grains. When the hens step on the treadle, it opens up and Voila! Chicken scratch galore! (Pardon my French.) At least, that's the way it works in theory.
But the reality is that the feeder has been in the chicken run for about a week now and not a single feathered soul has stepped up. I've tried everything: propped the lid open for a spell, just so they could see and taste what's inside; sprinkled food around and on top, to coax them along; even picked up Silkie one day, against her better wishes, and plopped her down on the treadle with the hope that she might witness the magic for herself. (You can imagine how well that went.)
Contrary to popular wisdom, chickens are not "chicken," not cowards, as much as they are very conservative. They warm up slowly to new things, abiding by something akin to poet Alexander Pope's dictum that "fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Introduce something new into their neighborhood--say, a new waterer or a nestbox--and, first, they'll distance themselves. Then, very casually, with a kind of cool nonchalance, they'll pick and peck their way closer and closer. Finally, one after another, they'll check it out.
I'm convinced that the Treadle Feeder is a special challenge, however, because it begs for a kind of larger commitment. Simple curiosity won't cut it. Unless the hen steps up and puts her whole weight onto the treadle, nothing opens up. No food until she throws her whole self into it, until she weighs in, you might say.
My hens aren't the only chickens in our household. I have done my share of dabbling, shirking and keeping my distance. I'm known the temptation of being unduely wary, of resisting the risky business of that which is genuinely nourishing and life-giving. I've allowed fear to constrict my diet, choosing instead to scratch around in the same old familiar dirt and nibble about the edges when a feast awaits just on the far side of some necessary leap. There have even been times when I've led a very disciplined life, have practiced and practiced, yet balked at the opportunity of a challenge, much like a well-trained fighter who refuses at the last minute to step up and weigh in.
Just a week or so together, while on a mission trip to West Virginia, I drove by a garage sale. In a brief moment I saw a grown man hit a small girl of about four or five. Was it a slap or a slug? It happened so quickly. I slowed down, stopped at the next wide spot in the road. I thought seriously about turning around, maybe pulling in as a customer, asking how things were going and complimenting the man on his beautiful daughter's blue dress or blonde hair. Something like that. But I questioned myself: Did I see what I saw? Is this my business? Then drove on. Chicken, I guess. I did not trust the weight of what I saw in that moment to be enough for me to act. More to the point: I did not trust God enough to bear the weight of what I saw, and to open up a way for me to intervene. Instead, the gravity paralyzed me. Lord, have mercy.
But we can, you know. Trust, that is. We can trust God with the full weight of our lives, or the lives of others, no matter how heavy things get. We can step up, out into the unknown, compelled only by our need for the deeper nourishment that only comes by risking lovingkindness. In fact, when it comes to the really good "scratch," not the stuff of Hostess Twinkies and Ding Dongs, but the kind that nourishes us from deep to deep, like faith, hope and love, it's only by being all in--not perfect, but full-body committed--that we can even approach the table. Sometimes weighing in is the only way in. Just think of how the Celebration of Communion is made possible by a God who's all in, who will stop at nothing to love us. Even when we miss out on the Feast, we can confess (as I'm trying to do here) instead of brooding about and rationalizing our fear, trusting that God's mercy will guide us to a more courageously loving place next time.
Meanwhile, my three hens continue their journey. Each day I'm hoping this'll be the day. The day they step up, entrusting their full weight to the treadle. The day they watch a whole new world open up before their very eyes.
I love the recklessness of faith. First you leap, and then you grow wings.
~William Sloane Coffin, Credo