Horror in the Hen House

“Chickens rarely die of old age.”

I’ve said this countless times, usually to the youth that has volunteered to watch my flock while I’m out of town visiting family or attending a conference. Their eyes always grow wide at the possibility that a predator will sneak into the coop while under their watch- I say it to preemptively let them off the hook, just in case something happens. It’s not your fault, these things happen, it’s the circle of life… chickens rarely die of old age.

I whispered these words to myself this morning, sometime between 4 and 5am as the sounds of frantic birds and a wild animal woke me from sleep. I admit, with only a little shame, that I did not race down the stairs as I usually do at the sound of a disturbance. It was clear it was already too late, so I laid there, listening, reminding myself of the circle of life.

I was certain we had lost them all, so you can imagine my surprise when my husband shared that we still had three hens unscathed. How do we keep them safe? With no clear sign of entry, how can we make sure our remaining three make it through another night? This is how I will spend the rest of my day: checking the perimeter, reinforcing weak spots, fixing the sliding door to the coop so that they can be securely locked away at night.

Yesterday in church I preached about the parable of the wedding banquet, about our need to break down barriers that have been constructed to keep others out. About our need to extend an invitation to those who have been outcast, to welcome them around the table in order to bring forth the kingdom of heaven. Now I wonder if I should have taken a cue from Saint Francis and preached instead to the animals. Perhaps I should have reminded them of Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kingdom, where “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6, NRSV) Where chickens can live safely beside fox, raccoon, and fisher cat.

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