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You’ve all likely encountered a sparrow at some point. House sparrows, for example, are one of the most common animals in the world and are found on every continent except Antarctica.
Several years ago, at the Baha’i House of Worship in Chicago, I came in close proximity to a savannah sparrow. I was sitting on the edge of a reflecting pool when this sparrow swooped in and started to clean itself in the pool. I quickly began filming it as it splashed around in the water. I was so excited that this tiny bird felt comfortable enough to coexist with me.
Although sparrows are so simple and common, their spiritual meaning can be quite complex, as they are often used as symbols in songs, faiths, and religions.
The Symbolism of Sparrows in Spiritual Songs
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;
Several singers, including Mahalia Jackson and Whitney Houston, sang this hymn titled, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow.” The spiritual meaning of this hymn is that God and Jesus watch over everyone, even the smallest of creatures like sparrows. So, there is no reason to ever feel alone or unsupported, because God is always looking after us.
Sparrows are mentioned several times in the Bible. In the book of Matthew, it says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.” This inclusion of the sparrow in this text symbolizes how God is constantly aware of everything he has created and no harm can be done to us without God knowing and caring.
The divine symbolism of the sparrow also inspired Marvin Gaye, who wrote a song called, “Sparrow.” In it, the bird functions as his muse as he calls the sparrow to sing to him about humanity’s suffering and asks it what we should do about it:
Sing to me about man’s inhumanity
And all the injustice you see
Sing sparrow, sing, little sparrow, sing
Sing about what to give
Sing about how to live
I want you to sing your tune sparrow
Oh, little sparrow, sing.
The Spiritual Meaning of Sparrows in the Baha’i Faith
Sparrows are spiritually meaningful in the Baha’i writings, because they represent our journey of spiritual growth and transformation. Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, explained that there is “a secret in every name and a mystery in every letter.” He wrote that the sparrow is called “Gunjishk” in Persian and “these letters refer to the states of holiness”:
The first meaneth ‘Free thyself from the promptings of self, then approach thy Lord.’
The second meaneth ‘Purify thyself from all save Him, that thou mayest offer up thy life for His sake.’
The third meaneth ‘Draw back from the threshold of the one true God if thou art still possessed of earthly attributes.’
The fourth meaneth ‘Render thanks unto thy Lord on His earth, that He may bless thee in His heaven, albeit in the realm of His unity His heaven is the same as His earth.’
The fifth meaneth ‘Remove from thine eyes the veils of limitation, that thou mayest learn that which thou knewest not of the stations of holiness.’
Baha’u’llah revealed an instruction for our spiritual progress in every letter of the word “Gunjishk”— sparrow. Baha’is believe that divine instructions are antidotes and remedies for our hearts.
Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah and one of the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, wrote, “In this day if anyone liveth in accord with the heavenly teachings and instructions, he shall become a spiritual physician to the world of humanity” and “the sparrow [will be] transformed into the eagle soaring toward the apex of the Ancient Glory.” The sparrow symbolizes how we begin our spiritual journey. The eagle represents who we can become.
As Baha’u’llah wrote:
Hear Me, ye mortal birds! In the Rose Garden of changeless splendor a Flower hath begun to bloom, compared to which every other flower is but a thorn, and before the brightness of Whose glory the very essence of beauty must pale and wither.
Arise, therefore, and, with the whole enthusiasm of your hearts, with all the eagerness of your souls, the full fervor of your will, and the concentrated efforts of your entire being, strive to attain the paradise of His presence, and endeavor to inhale the fragrance of the incorruptible Flower, to breathe the sweet savors of holiness, and to obtain a portion of this perfume of celestial glory.