His Eye is on the Sparrow

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 — Week of Proper 23, Year One

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 988)

Psalms 119:1-24 (morning) // 12, 13, 14 (evening)

Jeremiah 37:3-21

1 Corinthians 14:13-25

Matthew 10:24-33

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father…. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29f)

I can remember hearing or reading this passage as a child and being deeply touched by it. If God watched, knew and cared about a little bird and its fate in this large, intimidating world, how wonderful, I thought, that God might be watching me, and caring. When I felt so small, weak and invisible, it was comforting and empowering to imagine God watching and delighting in me. Though friends may be mean, teachers demanding, and parents — well, parents could be so many things to a child — God’s powerful and caring eye was on the sparrow and on me.

Most of the time God’s eye felt warm and comforting. But on the occasions when I was doing something untoward, I really wished God’s eye had something more interesting to watch. The notion of being spied on could feel as oppressive as being watched felt empowering.

“His Eye is on the Sparrow” is a Gospel hymn that has been a song of deep heart for so many singers, especially African American performers. Ethel Waters used the song as the title of her autobiography, as she told her story of struggle. She was born as the child of her 13-year old mother’s rape, and raised in a violent, poor home, moving often. She herself was married at age 13 to an abusive man. Her singing became her way to power and liberation, and she challenged many of the attempts to continue to stereotype black performers. She became a successful and acclaimed singer and actress.

The song “His Eye is on the Sparrow” has an uplifting and simple, blusey message. “Why should I feel discouraged…? His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me. I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free.”

The lyrics were written by Civilla Martin who tells of her inspiration:

Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle—true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience. (Wikipedia, His Eye is on the Sparrow)

The lyrics make a fine prayer for starting this day:

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,

Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heav’n and home,

When Jesus is my portion? My constant Friend is He:

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.


I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,

For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Let not your heart be troubled, His tender word I hear,

And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;

Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,

When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,

I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

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