Oriole

“Timeless1705 (Baltimore Oriole),” by ECHO Eunah Cho LINK
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

—Mary Oliver, from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems

Early this morning I was beside a local pond, spotting my first Baltimore orioles and yellow warblers of spring, and trying to count a restless flock of cedar waxwings.

A little while ago I checked back in with the New York Times, and now I am trembling and sick with horror.

How are we to live in this world

where orioles sing and men kill for no purpose, dragging civilians from their homes and shooting them on their front walks

Some days I think I have an answer, but right now
I have nothing but an ocean of sadness

and the memory of orange and black
under a cloudy sky

Come and taste

(Artwork by Sr. Mary Stephen)

“So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8)

COME AND TASTE OF RESURRECTION
by Kate Layzer

“Come and taste of resurrection,”
speaks the voice so sweet and clear;
“Rise and take a new direction;
if you trust me, have no fear.”

Who am I that you should love me?
Just a creature made of earth.
Every mortal fragment of me
shrinks away from such rebirth.

Yet you stand here watching, waiting,
holding out your arms to me;
silent answer emanating:
“Love lasts an eternity.

“Put away, then, all your grieving;
free your heart from pointless strife.
Be not fearful but believing:
Now begins eternal life.”

Christ, your name is glory, glory,
hope of everlasting grace!
Deep in this unfolding story
we have glimpsed love face to face.

I wrote this hymn text sometime in the mid-1990s, I can’t exactly remember what year. It was one of those rare texts that came to me quickly, with very little “strife.” I probably wrote it in one or two sittings. A member of the congregation had asked me for a hymn on the theme of resurrection, and this was what came out. As you might guess, I was at a very difficult time in my life. Not only were my circumstances difficult, I was difficult: young, raw, tactless, graceless. I was deeply in need of healing, and had no idea where to look for it.

The interesting thing is that by trying to write honestly about a personal, internal dialogue, I ended up expressing something seemingly universal. I say this because my church has sung this hymn two or three times a year for the past 25 years, and each time we do, people seek me out later to tell me how powerfully the text affected them.

What I want to say on this Easter day in 2022 is that I’m in a very different place now. It has taken time, and brought me to places I could never have anticipated. If you had told me ahead of time where I was headed, I would have been as terrified and amazed as the women at the Easter tomb. Joy has come on paths I would never have consciously chosen. But it has been real joy. So often in my life what I’ve gone looking for most desperately, what I thought I wanted most in the world, has turned out all wrong. “Things are sweeter when they’re lost,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in one of his bitterer moments.

“I know — because once I wanted something and got it. It was the only thing I ever wanted badly… And when I got it it turned to dust in my hands.”

The Beautiful and the Damned

And yet today I know that joy is real, and absolutely, positively worth hanging on for. You have to let it come to you, though. You have to go out there and live your life, and let it come to you freely, as a gift and a surprise. At least, that’s what it’s been like for me. Maybe your path looks different.

Angie Renfrew
LAST NIGHT, AS I WAS SLEEPING 

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a spring was breaking
out in my heart.
I said: Along which secret aqueduct,
O water, are you coming to me,
water of a new life
that I have never drunk?

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that I had a beehive
here in my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from my old failures.

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that a fiery sun was giving
light inside my heart.
It was fiery because I felt
warmth as from a hearth,
and sun because it gave light
and brought tears to my eyes.

Last night, as I slept,
I dreamt—marvelous error!—
that it was God I had
here inside my heart.

		—Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly

If you would like a pdf of the complete hymn “Come and Taste of Resurrection,” beautifully set by composer/musician Peter Sykes, feel free to message me. Happy Easter.

Peace at the center

THE GUEST HOUSE

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

—Rumi

The sadness starts most years around the second week of April.

It’s not even that I’m thinking about the date. The sadness comes, and then I remember—oh, yes. It’s that time of year again.

Somehow my body remembers. I think it must be the angle of the sun, the look of the light at this calendar moment, here in Massachusetts. Something reminds me on an unconscious level. I forget, but my body remembers.

I’m grateful for that. That means it’s real. It’s not just a date on the calendar, marked with self-conscious solemnity. It’s stored more organically than that—forever a part of me. It may well be trauma that made the imprint: We know now how trauma etches memories in particular ways. But in this case, the memory is of someone who was dear to me. I’m glad my body hasn’t forgotten.

As humans, I suspect we often miss the information encoded in our bodies. I mean, where else would it be encoded? We are made of matter, we have no alternative. The most ethereal thoughts still need a neural network to run on. The profoundest mystic, wrapped in prayer, needs operative brain cells to reach for highest heaven. (In this life, anyway. I can’t comment on any other.)

Worldly information is bodily information. But people screen a lot of it out. A lot of it we just don’t know how to interpret. So we focus our attention on what we can consciously know and choose.

The birds, the squirrels, the chipmunks, the rabbits in my neighborhood are out there doing what wild creatures do in springtime. They’re singing their spring and summer songs, they’re establishing their territory; they’re pairing up and building nests, following the deep, wise promptings of their bodies, while I try to decide what to have for breakfast, and later, wonder why I seem to be feeling especially sad that day. (It’s spring, honey. It’s the second week of April.)

Simon Alexandre Clément Denis (Flemish), Study of Clouds with a Sunset near Rome, 1786–1801

I suspect that most of us, most of the time, don’t really know why we are feeling what at any given moment. Feelings well up from a place our conscious minds can’t reach. I know why this time of year stirs up sadness. But what about all the other times? All those other shifts of mood, the whole emotional palette, clouding over and lightening again in shades of blue and purple, white and gray, like a New England sky in springtime. Was it something someone said? Did an old memory get triggered? Maybe something happened in my gut microbiome that altered my state of mind. Who knows.

We’re a mystery to ourselves. We only see a part of what’s going on at any given moment. We’re a mystery living inside an even bigger mystery, the universe, which is mostly hiding from us—mostly made up of something we’ve never seen, which we evocatively call “dark matter.” All of it inside the biggest and most dark-shining mystery of all.

I am learning to let the changes of mood come and go, like breezes through an open door. From a spot in the middle of the room, as it were, I register them, but I try not to let them consume me. I keep my balance by remembering what it feels like to look at birds. It’s a way of reminding myself that calm and peace are already present: I don’t have to go looking for them.

Yesterday I checked ebird for updates on a local pond, just to see what people had been reporting there. A couple of people said they had seen a common loon—despite the name, a rare occurrence—and one person helpfully added a note: “the north side of the pond.” So this morning I stopped by on my way to work.

The pond was as utterly still as I’ve ever seen it, reflecting back the morning light. I walked along the north edge, scanning the surface, mentally registering a background chorus of song sparrows, blackbirds, red-bellied woodpeckers, robins, jays… and then I spotted it. A tiny blotch off in the distance, coming nearer, its wake spreading behind it. I lifted the binoculars. Loon.

I don’t know why I feel the way I do about loons, or why it didn’t happen to me until I was well into middle age. But it feels close to the center of who I am—not the emotions that come and go, but the joy and peace that dwells serenely at my human heart.

Can you see it?

A wartime poem

Georges Braque, 1960

The British poet Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967) served as a second lieutenant during World War I. His poems from the trenches are some of the most powerful war poems ever written. On the eve of Holy Week, amid the grief and horror of the brutal war being waged against Ukraine, I share his poem EVERYONE SANG.

EVERYONE SANG

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on — on — and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

—Siegfried Sassoon
Japanese Indigo Katagami Fabric, Palm Leaves

PRAYER

Prince of peace, have mercy on us.
Suffering one, have mercy on us.
Flesh of our flesh, have mercy on us.
Lead us into peace.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2DwSllqWZw
Christe lux mundi
qui sequitur te
habebit lumen vitae

Christ, light of the world
whoever follows you
will have the light of life

Office park nature

Look at them all.

A long stretch of chilly days, typical New England early spring. I’ve been spending way too much time on the couch lately, so this afternoon I finally made myself take a walk, even though there just hasn’t been much to see out there, bird-wise. I’m restless for migration season to start. But I put on my coat, grabbed my binoculars, stepped out the door—and heard a red-tailed hawk scream. Yes, there it was, circling the roofs of our apartment complex. A male announcing his territory to any and all competitors, wheeling and gliding on the wind.

But that was just the prelude. Walking through the nearby office park a few minutes later, I raised my binoculars to a bird on a branch, expecting a house sparrow or a jay, and found myself gazing directly at a cedar waxwing. And another! And—I turned and saw a whole flock of them in the trees over my head. A good 20 at least, glowing yellow and peach in the late afternoon light. I knew they liked to flock, but I’d never come across more than one or two at a time before. It was like seeing a vision.

A little further along, guys in hardhats getting off work for the day, pausing to chat for a moment at their cars. Awash in bird endorphins, I wanted to take them by the hand and say, “Come with me, I have something to show you! Something glorious, a bona-fide office park miracle; come and look!” But we can’t say things like that to each other, we can’t just bare our hearts to strangers (why can’t we, though?), and besides I doubt it would have meant much to them. (You never know, though: Bird people are everywhere.)

So instead I just entered my waxwings into ebird, along with the hawk, and continued on. The air rumbled with the sound of earth-movers in the near distance, remaking bits of the landscape for new human purposes. HVAC systems whirred in the office buildings, cars passed. On foot, uninsulated, I may have been the one soul lucky enough to have glimpsed mystery in the trees at the side of the drive, dozens of pastel-colored birds calmly rising and rearranging and alighting.

The City Limits

When you consider the radiance, that it does not withhold
itself but pours its abundance without selection into every
nook and cranny not overhung or hidden; when you consider

that birds’ bones make no awful noise against the light but
lie low in the light as in a high testimony; when you consider
the radiance, that it will look into the guiltiest

swervings of the weaving heart and bear itself upon them,
not flinching into disguise or darkening; when you consider
the abundance of such resource as illuminates the glow-blue

bodies and gold-skeined wings of flies swarming the dumped
guts of a natural slaughter or the coil of shit and in no
way winces from its storms of generosity; when you consider

that air or vacuum, snow or shale, squid or wolf, rose or lichen,
each is accepted into as much light as it will take, then
the heart moves roomier, the man stands and looks about, the

leaf does not increase itself above the grass, and the dark
work of the deepest cells is of a tune with May bushes
and fear lit by the breadth of such calmly turns to praise.

—A.R. Ammons


Also in the neighborhood today, the usual assortment of locals—

robins
starlings
chickadees
tufted titmice
crows
red-winged blackbirds
mallards
Canada geese
house sparrows
herring gulls
blue jays
goldfinches

oh, and a northern mockingbird, singing so beautifully.