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Reform Magazine | December 5, 2023

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On a wing and a prayer

On a wing and a prayer

Mark Winter takes a long slow look at the place where birdwatching and prayer meet

Prayer and watching birds may not seem obvious activities to combine, but for me, there are special occasions when they go together. Afterwards, I am left with memories of special moments when I felt in awe of God and especially thankful of his love.

I find prayer extremely difficult. I have tried various formulae, but whatever technique I adopt, my prayer seems contrived, the words ring hollow and I soon become discouraged at yet another failed attempt. The problems of insufficient time and distraction persist: I feel guilty that I don’t more often make the time to pray, and when I do, my mind seems beset by the noise of trivial thoughts and a tendency to dwell on daily concerns. I doubt that I am alone with such frustrations, but that awareness does not help. How can I draw close to God when I don’t pray?

Ironically, a similar frustration affects my birdwatching. I don’t seem to have enough time to do it alongside the day job, family commitments and church-related duties, and when I do, I face the tendency to rush. You have probably heard of “twitching” and may think it is synonymous with birdwatching, but it isn’t. Twitching is one potentially extreme kind of birdwatching, involving the pursuit of rare birds that others have found and publicised. Most birdwatchers twitch and for some it becomes an obsession as they travel to any corner of Britain when the news breaks of a rarity from Siberia or America turning up thousands of miles from home. You get in the car hoping it has not yet flown away, anxiety mounts as you arrive at the site, and then you feel either relief or disappointment. Yes, I admit to twitching, but these days I try to keep it local – which is significantly easier in a county like Northumberland, where continental rarities can turn up on the coast after easterly winds…


This is an extract from the February 2015 edition of Reform.

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