Looking Up: A Birder's Guide to Hope Through Grief, By Courtney Ellis
Looking Up
  • Length: 240 pages
  • Dimensions: 5.5 × 8.5 in
  • Published: April 09, 2024
  • Imprint: IVP
  • Item Code: A0716
  • ISBN: 9781514007167

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"Look at the birds"

Through the painful days of the pandemic stuck in her home, Courtney Ellis found herself looking down in despair. Soon after, her beloved grandfather died unexpectedly.

It was around this same time that Ellis took up watching birds. "Took up" might not be exactly right—as she puts it, "the switch flipped," and she’s been borderline obsessed with birds ever since.

Looking Up is a meditation on birding as a practice of hope. Weaving together stories from her own life, including the death of her grandfather, with reflections on birds of many kinds, Ellis invites us to open our eyes to the goodness of God both in the natural world and in our own lives. By "looking up" to the birds, Ellis found the beauty and wonder of these creatures calling her out of her darkness into the light and hope of God's promises.

"Ever wish you could fly? Me too! Yet no matter how fast I flap, truth is, I flop. Next best thing to catching a wind shear is airlifting our hearts with Courtney Ellis's offering Looking Up. Two things we know: in this life we will all suffer loss and we will all long for hope. Courtney shares her flight plan from her own aerial story to her crash into grief and her recovery via the wings of hope. Need a new song? Lean in with me to Courtney's Looking Up, and let's feel our wings grow stronger, our minds gain perspective, and our spirits begin to soar."

Patsy Clairmont, author of You Are More Than You Know and cohost of the Bridges podcast

"Like an oriole stitching together its magnificent nest, Courtney Ellis skillfully weaves together theology, poetry, psychology, history, and ecology to take you on a marvelous journey. Whether you are an expert birder or a total novice, you will alternately laugh out loud and hold back tears on Courtney's bird's-eye tour through the whole gamut of human emotion—love and grief, joy and fear, anxiety and wonder—until she brings you home at last to hope. An inspiring and heartwarming read!"

Keith Gregoire, physician, author, and birder

"Courtney Ellis's wise, beautiful meditation on birds is deeply human. She gently nudges us toward the human experiences that can feel like too much—grief, loss, mortality, even overwhelming awe—and helps us to keep breathing, keep watching. In Looking Up, Courtney is a loving and patient guide through the unexpected turns in life, filling us with hope and pointing us toward the divine."

Dorcas Cheng-Tozun, author of Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul: How to Change the World in Quiet Ways

"In Looking Up, Courtney Ellis walks us into the crucible of grief, and with faith-filled wisdom and wit—and the help of countless, wondrous birds—guides us gently through. I was drawn in by Ellis's generosity and candor, and I was kept in by her gift for storytelling. Readers will find themselves nodding along knowingly, laughing out loud, and weeping, all in the course of a single chapter. In short, this book is a delight and a balm. I recommend Looking Up to anyone who has ever found themselves in the valley of the shadow of death—which is to say, everyone."

Emily Hunter McGowin, author of Christmas: The Season of Life and Light and associate professor of theology at Wheaton College

"Looking Up isn't just about birdwatching. It's about birds. And it's not just about birds. It's about life. And like life, it's delightful."

Karen Swallow Prior, author of The Evangelical Imagination: How Stories, Images, and Metaphors Created a Culture in Crisis

"This is pastoral imagination at its finest and with a sacramental flair. In the midst of sorrow and grief, Courtney Ellis has us literally looking up to the birds all around us, then looking higher still at the Creator who reveals things about himself and what it means to be his people through these winged creatures. Her storytelling is so captivating that it has the effect of a skilled and gracious host who invites you in, makes you laugh, then cry, and then confess the deepest longings and fears in your soul. This is God's world, and God is alive and at work within it, even in our pain."

Glenn Packiam, lead pastor of Rockharbor Church and author of The Resilient Pastor

"Courtney Ellis weaves together a multitude of life's threads. She skillfully tugs those threads at different times reminding us all of our interconnections—to each other, our values, and the natural world. While this book is richly about birds, it's also about much more—about how if we listen and lead with our hearts we can move through life's most difficult moments with grace."

Becca Rodomsky-Bish, Cornell Lab of Ornithology

"'My heart in hiding / Stirred for a bird,' Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, and that stirring is felt on each page of Courtney Ellis's deeply felt exploration of grief. This is a beautiful and honest guide with which to watch for appearances of genuine hope in our own hiding hearts."

Paul J. Pastor, author of Bower Lodge: Poems

Read an Excerpt


Foreword by Kay Warren

1. Looking Up: Birding
2. Death: Vultures
3. Uncertainty: Mockingbirds
4. Life: Sparrows
5. End Times: Owls
6. Dailiness: House Finches
7. Brokenness and Sin: Hummingbirds
8. Delight: Warblers
9. Grief: Albatrosses
10. Partnership: Wrens
11. Peace: Doves
12. Love: Pelicans
13. Truth and Beauty: Corvids
14. Rest: Quail
15. Hope: Birds

Appendix: So You Want to Start Birding?


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Courtney Ellis

Courtney Ellis is a pastor at the Presbyterian Church of the Master in Mission Viejo, California. She is the author of several books, including Happy Now and Present. She also hosts The Thing with Feathers, a podcast about birds and hope. She lives in Orange County, California, with her husband and three children.