by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM July 26, 2020
Perhaps you, like me, need no alarm clock on spring or summer mornings. Whether we’re immersed in the natural world or surrounded by brick and mortar, most probably the barely rising sun is accompanied by birdsong of some sort. The chatter of robins and chickadees and cardinals, maybe the clucking of pigeons or the cooing of mourning doves, is as reliable as that 5:30 AM buzzer for rousing us from sleep. Birdsong is our invitation to enter into a new day.
It was birdsong that lingered in my consciousness as I worked on another writing project and came across this astounding quote from Scott Hoezee in Earth Gospel:
“Some time ago an ornithologist observed a single red-eyed vireo singing its song 22,197 times in a single day! Conservative estimates say that in North America alone there are as many as six billion land birds. So let us be conservative and say that on a given day in the season of spring—the time of year when birds tend to sing the most—each of these birds sings its song ten thousand times. That would be, in North America alone, sixty trillion songs in just one day.”
Besides being amazed by this statistic—a bird singing its song ten thousand times in one day–I get why birds would be singing the most at this time of year. Spring is the season of so many joyous milestones: finding a mate, starting a new life, discovering a purpose together. It’s the season of brooding over eggs, watching in awe as chicks make their way to the light, learning to be a fierce protector. It’s the season of plentiful plump earthworms and returning insects to round out the menu for ever-hungry, ever clamoring little beaks. It seems birds simply can’t keep themselves from singing at such a happy time.
Summer continues the season of excitement and discovery. Feeling the sun’s warmth, sheltering a growing brood, testing the flap of unsteady but eager young wings as fledglings learn to fly, teaching a master class in foraging for a next meal. Singing and singing and singing.
But what about the rest of the seasons, I wondered, thinking about our own cycles where abundance seems to give way to diminishment, where delight is sometimes replaced by pain and loss. Do birds still sing in autumn when greenery begins to enter into the cycle of dying, when food sources give way to decay? What about when some are summoned to follow an internal compass and navigate to foreign lands? What about when the endurance of feathers and wings is tested to the verge of utter exhaustion? Singing and singing and singing.
And then the harshness of winter: snow and wind and ice pelting their feathers; barren shrubs and trees offering no protection from the elements; last year’s nests abandoned as no longer life-giving. Is it even possible to find anything to chirp about in winter?
I’ve learned that our feathered neighbors may sing a bit less in fall and winter, but that they never stop sending out their cries and caws and whistles and songs. Their early morning chatter may become subdued, but never muted. Singing and singing and singing in every season of life.
I thank our winged neighbors for reminding us that, no matter what is unfolding in our lives, no matter what season we may find ourselves in, there is always, always a song lingering in our throats. At times it may be as faint as a whisper or as muffled as a broken cry. But it is there, at the ready, always as near as the Holy One.
The poet, Mary Oliver, wrote that she believed in singing “especially when singing is not necessarily prescribed.” I invite you to delight in the following song pouring out from 140 musicians and singers at the height of the pandemic in New York City. Broadway was dark, jobs had vanished, the future was uncertain. And yet, these artists gathered together, summoned their gifts, and opened their hearts to ask the rhetorical question: How can I keep from singing?
Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
As you pause, pay attention to whatever song your heart is singing at the moment.
Name that song with tenderness and compassion.
Ask the Holy One to help you to sing it as best as you are able.
If you’re so inclined, sing your heartsong aloud as a blessing.
Vincent Van Zalinge
It’s my custom to take a break from blogging during the month of August so I can savor some time for my own retreat and renewal.
After that, from August 15-21, I’ll be connected with the Sisters of St. Joseph, Brentwood, for a virtual retreat instead of their in-person retreat at Hampton Bays, NY.
And I will miss gathering with retreatants at St. Mary by-the-Sea, Cape May Point, NJ, August 27 – September 3. That retreat has been re-scheduled to next year, August 26 – September 2, 2021.
Please hold all who are or would have been part of these retreat experiences in your prayer and know that we will remember you in ours. Thank you.
I look forward to returning to Mining the Now in September. Meantime, stay safe and well and have renewing and relaxing summer days whenever you can!
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