The Nightingale’s Song

Parakeets in the Choir

Chapter One
The Nightingale’s Song

The little pine coffin, simple in design, elegant in austerity, gaped with the tiny prisoner held in eternal abeyance within its wooden jaws. She was just a common song sparrow. No noticeable markings. No medallions lapped about her fragile neck. Her fame did not lie in public accomplishments celebrated by the press. There was no mass acclaim. She was not a celebrity.sparow

She was just a common song sparrow who once brightened the neighborhood where she lived. She called to her many friends every morning with encouraging melodies that lifted the spirits of all who rose for the day’s toil ahead. While others cooked daybreak grits and fired up coffeepots, she sang. There was no coercion. She sang with spontaneous delight.

The effect of her lifeless body upon the gathered mourners was immense. The sparrow’s Spartan lifestyle reminded all that the essence of the gospel life is elegant simplicity, austere joy. She summoned spiritual strength from servanthood. She lived for others, not herself. Her life was her song. She sang tirelessly spinning out melodies directed at the homeliest of hearts, at the despondent souls that inhabited the byways and sultry nights of her working class neighborhood.

Now she lay in state, her little limbs stiff and cold, the melodies hushed. The mourners, hundreds of friends from the streets about her home, sat numbly wondering who would sing for them now. Who would coax them from their beds on dreary midweek days when the sun was clouded over? Who? Who would flutter from window box to window box smiling at them as they sipped morning coffee? Who? Already they missed her. Yes. Already they missed her.

sparrow2As the funeral progressed, the minister read his favorite texts promising a bright tomorrow. He reminded the sorrowful of the bliss of heaven and did his best to revive the song. He tried. But everyone knew she would warble no more. The songster was gone. The silence was too heavy for the sermon.

The minister heaved a cold sigh, closed the Bible and sat down on his stiff-backed pulpit chair covered in golden fabric. He sat down and dabbed at his misty eyes. He too wondered who would replace the song. Who?

The whole congregation was entombed in grief. No one moved. The Minister checked his watch and realized it was nearly time to depart. He had failed his people. Inspiration eluded him. Dismissal was all that remained. He dreaded to rise and dismiss. All was not properly settled.

Then, suddenly interrupting his limping reverie was a quiet melody so pure, so sincere, striding buoyantly with hope. It rose from the back of the sanctuary like angel’s breath from the recessed choir loft high and removed. Sweeter than taps, the heaven scented Aria fell over the congregation like mist on a cracked desert.

The effect was immediate. The desert began to bloom. Eyes red with grief brightened. Brows tight with death furrows softened.

The crowd immediately turned to stare up at the mysterious voice in the loft. What they saw was not an angel. They saw no apparitions or ghosts from paradise. No. What they saw was a humble nightingale whose own heart was broken over the loss of her friend in the casket.

She was not on the program. No one had officially recognized her. She did not mean to sing. But as she listened to the Scripture and reflected osparow3n the sparrow’s life, singing seemed her natural contribution. She sang with her eyes closed spilling her heart upon the listeners and offering an inspired carol to God, who always appreciates genuine prayer.

The nightingale’s solo continued for a spellbinding period. The notes cascaded down upon parched attendants until without any warning or notice she stopped. She just stopped, wiped her eyes, blew her little nose with a delicate yellow hanky and then quietly flew off.

The minister, stunned over the unexpected performance, rose with renewed joy. He motioned for all to stand. “Go in peace,” he said, his face beaming. “Go in peace and remember the nightingale’s song,” he told them.

And they did.

“I was like one who comforts mourners” (Job 29:25).

David R. Denny  Ph.D.

Mink Money

Parakeets in the Choir

Chapter Three
Mink Money

Minnie adjusted her pink peacock hat looking discreetly into the small pocket sized mirror held at waist level beneath the pew tops. She had arrived early padding quietly to her MInk1prominent place on the front right of the sanctuary. With social seniority over the other minks, she was always seated first. Her husband, Chauncey, usually came along later preferring to chatter with the boys at the side door until he heard the first hymn.

Minnie was a no-nonsense mink with little patience for irregularities. She expected her pew to be vacant and cleaned and for the service to start on time. She demanded a noon departure. Her prayer requests were always read first from the pulpit. When she stood for a hymn, everyone else stood. When she spoke, which wasn’t often, everyone listened.

Minnie liked jewelry. She wore a thick set of iridescent pearls, hand-harvested in the Persian Gulf, about her flaccid neck. Blending smartly with the white speckles on her dark brown fur, the nacreous pearls added a particular distinction to her demeanor. She was often seen touching the pearls during the service as if they were prayer beads, which they were not.

She had a black onyx ring on her left paw which she had picked up while visiting relatives down in the Gulf of Mexico on a worldwide romp several years back. She also had several gold bracelets. She enjoyed competing with the golden candlesticks that bedecked the altar in front of the church.

Minnie always asked her husband during the offertory for the checkbook. She spoke just loud enough for others to hear. “Chauncey, darling, the checkbook please,” she would say.

“Oh. Right, Sweetie. Here it is,” replied Chauncey always quick to oblige his wife.

“How much should I write it for Chauncey, dearest?” she would ask. “Is a thousand enough?”

Chauncey, who neither made the money nor had permission to spend it, usually just nodded politely. “That’s fine, Sweets,” he would say.

Then Minnie would scrawl out the zeroes with large sweeping strokes and hold the plate a few seconds while she placed her check on top of the other small bills. A flutter of impressed sighs would rise from the ranks about her, and the plate would pass on to the single mothers and blue-collar fathers sitting further back.

Minnie didn’t like surprises, which made the service last week all the more memorable. Just as the first hymn was beginning, a group of visiting Bolivian chinchillas hopped up the center aisle of the sanctuary looking a bit lost. Neither comprehending the rules of prestige nor having an understanding of a church pecking order, they excused themselves politely and stepped right past Minnie and sat down in her pew.

The choral director nearly swallowed her tongue. The congregation gasped in between the second and third verses of “Rescue the Perishing.”

These chinchillas were from one of the poorer barrios of a Bolivian ghetto. Their mottled gray fur was streaked with dirt and full of field burrs. Their large ears sagged. They looked tired. They had a slight riverbank odor.Mink2

Minnie squirmed the entire service long. She squeezed toward the center aisle side of the pew and never once greeted the visitors. When church ended, she went immediately to Mr. Barret, a long railed weasel who had been the head usher at the church longer than the polar ice cap had been frozen over.

“Mr. Barret? What is the meaning of this, this outrage?” snorted Minnie, pearls flipping and jiggling on her taut neck.

“What’s that, Minnie?” asked Mr. Barret feigning ignorance. “Something bothering you?”

“You know what’s bothering me, Mr. Barret. How could you let those cheap chinchillas get down as far as my row? Why didn’t you put them in the back with the rodents? Such a breach of protocol is very grave, Mr. Barret. Very grave.” Minnie wasn’t smiling at all.

Mr. Barret fought back his nervous giggle that weasels have. “I don’t know how they slipped by me, Minnie. I will certainly do better next time.”

Minnie was not impressed. “I hope so,” snapped Minnie her tail whipping about with a fury.

The chinchillas never came back.

The offering was down a thousand dollars the following week.Mink3

“Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5)).





Bottom Feeders

Parakeets in the Choir

Chapter Two
Bottom Feeders

Cornell, a Mississippi channel catfish with extra thick barbels and a perpetual scowl, swaggered down the church aisle to his customary pew. He sat in the middle section to the right, the preacher’s left, just in front of the Alabama mud hens who loved to cluck and gossip about trivialities.

Cornell was often seen swiveling about in his seat to hear the latest news. The talk today was about Mrs. Jessep’s daughter, Silvia, who was running with a hulky fellow who had chains dangling from his belt and silver earrings in his lobes. Silvia, the deacon’s daughter and a vivacious feline with silver tipped paws, was a bit rebellious.

Cornell gobbled up the news, his back fin wriggling with nefarious delight. He knew better. He had heard several informative sermons on the illicit dangers of perpetual bottom feeding, but none of it stuck. Gossip, innuendo, rumors, and whisperings, which resided in the muck of the social graces, had a grip on his senses. He either couldn’t or wouldn’t forswear these vices.

Bottom1Many times Reverend Smathers, the preacher, would look right at Cornell during the sermon, pointing a stiff and censorial wing in his general direction saying, ” . . . and furthermore, it’s just plain wrong. Anybody who loves to muzzle up to the muck in the river bottom, if you know what I mean, is a pretty sorry church person, I’ll say that. Whoooee, yes sir, I’ll say that right here in front of God Himself.”

Preacher Smathers was a serious heavy-lidded white-faced owl who didn’t take well to insubordination, snoring in church or bottom feeding. He didn’t mind preaching about it either.

The mud hens usually took it pretty hard. Parishioners nearby could hear them clucking softly during these sermonic tirades. But Cornell paid little attention to this. He just scribbled on the bulletins, drawing stick figures of cats on fence railings and dogs howling against large moons. Once the service ended, he was quick to swivel around and continue any conversation interrupted by the call to worship.

I can’t recall exactly when the change in Cornell started. I think though it happened the day his sister, Malinda, a slender catfish with white lips and alluring eyes got pregnant. This event, of course, caused great consternation in Cornell’s family.

The tides rose and fell around Malinda. She was the star of the household, and her parents had high hopes for their talented daughter swimming the full length of the Mississippi and earning an athletic scholarship to college. The local media had already interviewed her twice. She had even appeared once on the six o’clock news.

Then came the unexpected pregnancy. (Malinda wasn’t married). Now her future was suddenly in question, and her story appeared in several catfish tabloids. It was starting to get nasty.

Cornell heard the mud hens whispering about her in church one Sunday morning. He had just slipped into his pew and there it was. He didn’t turn around, but he could make out the coded language.

” . . . and she heard it from Jake who swore on his mother’s picture that it was true,” said one hen covering her mouth with a wing.

“You can’t believe Jake,” said another hen. “He’ll say anything to get attention.”

“No. This time, he wasn’t joking. He saw Malinda picking out maternity clothes at Jibes Pet Store downtown.”

“Really?” said three hens together bending in toward one another in a mud hen half circle.

“Yep. I swear it.”

Cornell couldn’t stand it. He was getting mad. His back fin stood straight up trembling and fluttering with agitation. He turned around and told them all just before “Holy, Holy, Holy” was set to begin, that they shouldn’t talk about other people like tBottom2hat. “That’s wrong, you know. People have feelings. And besides, this is a place of worship, not idle talk.” His whiskers pointed like tiny daggers at the hens who pulled back with fright pressing into the back of the pews.

Cornel sat rigidly through the entire sermon, his lips shut tight. He scowled so hard he could barely unlock his jaw after the last prayer and the people rose to leave. I’m not sure what Cornell was thinking during that sermon but this one thing I know: Cornell never gossiped again. In fact, he has since become a model catfish serving on the deacon board and helping out in the seven-year-old classes during Sunday school.

And by the way, his sister, Malinda, had her baby and still swam the river. She will be attending, on full scholarship, Catfish State in the fall.


“For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there may be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances” (2 Cor. 12:20).

Dr. Nicholas Trusaint