A “Hens and Chicks” Spirituality

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Luke 13:31-35

February 19, 2016, Words By: Lina Thompson, Image By:

Jerusalem was in trouble, and she didn’t even know it. Jesus’ prophetic words here in chapter 13 are dripping with sorrow and regret. Corruption in the temple, spiritual unfruitfulness and willful disobedience cause Jesus to weep when he looks over the City of Peace and laments its impending destruction.
Jesus has a clear picture of what is in his heart for his people, and he reaches for an image to adequately describe his feelings. The metaphor he chooses is instructive— a mother hen whose heart longs for her children.

Here’s what I’ve learned about
mother hens.

When they gather their chicks under their wings, like Jesus is talking about here, it’s usually about protection. Often in the face of danger, hens open their wings, and their chicks instinctively know that’s where they go for safety. No harm will come to them there. This is a surprisingly powerful image Jesus has chosen; it conveys his yearning for a relationship with his people. He longs to save them and protect them from what is coming; oddly, he is acting to save and protect his people from their own ignorance.

Typically (or stereotypically), the God-like attribute assigned to women is that of a “nurturer,” not a “protector.”

This passage suggests something different. Mother hens protect.

I’ve seen this first hand. I’ve seen women fight — physically fight — with men to protect themselves and their children. They’ve hovered over their little ones when violence erupts in their homes or on their streets. This narrative of “women/moms as protectors” is empowering and affirming, though it is probably not the norm in most Christian circles.

This is the kind of protection that Jesus wanted to provide Jerusalem and her children. They were unwilling to receive it because they didn’t know they needed it.

I have come to realize there are people who are willing to receive help and people who are not. I continue to sit in conversations with people about opportunities for job training, drug rehab, a chance to finish high-school, advocacy with health care, etc. After 30 years, it still surprises me when people are unwilling to receive real support and help.

Here’s the thing…

Sometimes I am unwilling, too. I’m unwilling to surrender what makes me comfortable, what gives me affirmation, what gives me power and what gives me security – even if it’s faulty.

I have to remember this paradox. We are all like mother hens – protecting and gathering.
We are also like chicks – scattering and unwilling to receive the grace, acceptance and
safety of Jesus.

Street Psalms is uniquely positioned to help deepen the kind of spirituality that can hold the tension I just described. I am not either/or. Instead, I’m both. The church is also both – called out to protect, love, and shelter, and also called to humbly confess our pride and unwillingness to act in obedience to God’s commandments.

Lent calls us to a deeper reflection on these things as we make our way toward Resurrection Sunday. May God meet you in the journey.

Rev. Lina Thompson
Pastor, Lake Burien Presbyterian Church
Longtime Friend and former Board Chair, Street Psalms

About The Author

Lina Thompson