The Clay Birds’ Carol


In the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, a mysterious early non-canonical work, believed to have been written in the 2nd century, a story is told of Jesus making birds out of clay and then breathing life into them. This carol has the birds telling their story of what happened.

The clay birds here singing their carol are like doves and, like all birds, are messengers of the unknown world from which miracles come. In Matthew 3: 13-17, a dove alights on Jesus after he is baptized. So it is that the Holy Spirit manifests as a dove and (in art but not in scripture) hovers above the head of the Virgin Mary in many paintings of the Annunciation.

Jan van Eyck, The Mystic Lamb. St. Bavo’s Cathedral, Ghent. 1432.

The Clay Birds reveal to us that their very existence is a mystery to them. The birds sing of how they were once simply clay, and how Jesus taught them to fly, telling them to be of this earth and to look up at the sky – the place where they longed to go – remembering that spirit comes first. The words of Jesus suggest to them that the spirit makes all things possible if they hold earth and heaven in harmony, honoring them both. The birds see a light beckoning to them, tip their wings up to the sky and discover that they can fly. When they reach a wood and see many other birds flying in and out of the leaves, the clay birds hear them sing: “He made us too.”

“So must it be with everyone,” they say to each other, “so that everyone living is holy.” 

Gilly Kohler, The Clay Birds’ Carol (App). 2015.