My little sisters, the birds, much bounden are ye unto God, your Creator, and always in every place ought ye to praise Him, for that He hath given you liberty to fly about everywhere, and hath also given you double and triple raiment; moreover He preserved your seed in the ark of Noah, that your race might not perish out of the world; still more are ye beholden to Him for the element of the air which He hath appointed for you; beyond all this, ye sow not, neither do you reap; and God feedeth you, and giveth you the streams and fountains for your drink; the mountains and valleys for your refuge and the high trees whereon to make your nests; and because ye know not how to spin or sow, God clotheth you, you and your children; wherefore your Creator loveth you much, seeing that He hath bestowed on you so many benefits; and therefore, my little sisters, beware of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praises unto God.
Saint Francis of Assisi – c 1220
Make a little birdhouse in your soul
They Might Be Giants – c 1990
Rising at dawn my usual routine is to feed the insatiable indoor cat or cats as the case may be and following that feed the ravenous and ebullient dog. Once the chow is consumed and the sound of the burbling coffee-making machine reaches my solaced ears, I, and my dog, Sugar, a Chihuahua, head outdoors. More often than not, our exit from the house is greeted by an insouciant, nocturnal cat returning, ambling, to home after a night of hunting and moon bathing. Lately, as the cat passes us inside as we head out and as I slip over the threshold I glide through an invisible force, some ether entirely new. The awakening world once cold with darkness and somnambulism by the lifting of some velvet veil slowly burns with movement and sound; the morning’s quietude there, briefly, is unexpectedly, suddenly, shattered by a swooping crescendo of twittering birds.
They swarm; the flock of birds moves as one, clearly comprised of hundreds of small birds. Across the lightening sky it flies a speckled, impressionistic noise with great rapidity. For a split second I am not myself and at the same time “there is nothing that is not myself.” I have been reduced to an animal, startled and awestruck. Then, a door either opens or it closes for I burn with those perennial duelists – emotion and reason. I want to doff my slippers; everywhere I stand is singed earth, a charred manuscript, but my eyes tell me the trees are not afire, even though the birds are alight from its many perches as if it were. Is this what Helen Schucman and William Thetford meant when they said to spend five minutes of your morning with God was to spend the rest of your day and all your thoughts with Him? Hide Thou Me/No other refuge/Can save but thee/Through this old world/ I’ve wandered so far, far from thee.
Is that small gap of self-forgetting an intrusion of sorts of the knowing in me that refuge can be found within, that it is a safe, small room one that is filled with the light of God? The day brightens within: My ears listen for the coming light while my open mouth takes in the crescendo of birds. Before my return to being, which comes with the departing blur of birds and the assumption of morning’s relative silence, is there something there for me in the momentary brightness within – a communication, as Thomas Merton suggests, without words of “an interior light from God.” In a flash, by swooshing birds, and awakening, did I see that God is inside of me? I must on these occasions leave myself behind because I find, suddenly, Sugar staring up at me with a quizzical expression across her small face. Where have you been? If it’s alright with you; can we go in now? And we do.
But, all day the crescendo, the light stays, if not at full strength, but fading to my ears as a song fades in retreating waves and to my sight as the burned ghost of light bulbs extinguished the cause remains. In that brief period outdoors did not my soul fill with the birds singing of grub, of ashes and St. Francis; did I not fill with the song of my Father’s incorruptible words. Not to put too fine a pine on it. I can’t help but strive to remember, throughout my day, this suddenness of what swarms overhead and takes flight within me.
Suddenly my dog tilts her tiny head. When you gaze at an object, you bring a blessing to it. It is based on God and solely on God, who is experienced in a unique and personal experience. If it’s alright with you; can we go in now?
And we do with a little birdhouse in our souls.