I took a picture of this painting at the Minneapolis Institute of Art last May. It looks so real; you may think you could touch one of the rocks and it would move. Or you could feel its smoothness with your fingertips. Perhaps you believe you can dust some of the dirt off the soft wings of the dead tree swallow. If you can zoom in on this picture, it is amazing to see the attention to detail and the realism achieved in this small painting.
The painter of this picture, Aaron Bohrod, was among the most famous American Scene painters working in the Midwest during the 1930s and 1940s. Later in the 1950s and beyond, Bohrod’s work took on a more surrealist quality, particularly as he crafted small, meticulous trump l’oeil paintings (an artistic term for the highly realistic optical illusion of three-dimensional space and objects on a two-dimensional surface), which is what this painting is.
Recently I was with a family planning a memorial service and one of the songs that came up as an option was His Eye is On the Sparrow. The song is based on Matthew 10:29, where Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside of your Father’s care.” The similar sentiment is shared in Luke 12:6: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.”
I know the bird depicted here is a tree swallow and not a sparrow, but neither species is remarkably valuable in the eyes of the world. The sparrow has often been relegated to the least of all birds. I have them aplenty at my bird feeder. In Jesus’ day, one penny got you two sparrows, and two pennies could buy you five. They were so insignificant that the trader threw in the fifth one for free. How much was that fifth sparrow worth? Nothing, really. Yet Jesus says that not one of those sparrows—not even that fifth sparrow—falls without getting the attention of God.
God values all life, even the seemingly worthless fifth sparrow is not overlooked by him—and neither can he—nor does he—overlook you.
Being Human connection: Listen to the encouraging lyrics of His Eye is on the Sparrow.
Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come, Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home, When Jesus is my portion. My constant friend is he: His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.
Refrain: 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.
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.
Featured art: Aaron Bohrod, Tree Swallow, 1956, Minneapolis Institute of Art