by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM March 27, 2022
Sometimes the warmup begins even before the first streaks of morning light. Chirp, whistle, trill, caw, cheep, twitter, warble, cluck, tweet. Repeat. Yes, it’s that lovely season here in the Northeast when the shrillness of an alarm clock gives way to the gentle but insistent melody of birdsong. A sound so familiar that we may be inclined to linger in bed listening to the choir warm up. A sound so reassuring that we may feel especially grateful to be awakened these spring mornings by a chorus of lilting notes rather than the scream of an air raid siren or the growing din of mortar shelling.
I learned long ago how birds survive a storm. Most birds stay where they are and strategically seek shelter. They may cling to the side of a sturdy tree, hide inside a hole, or find a protected spot in a dense thicket or grove. A few who don’t have nests with helpless young are free to escape and fly ahead of a darkening sky.
But I’m led to wonder about birdsong in a time of war. With the shelling of Ukraine, the pulverizing of her towns, and the merciless killing of her people, I’ve been wondering if the birds have gone silent these days. Each morning as I’m graced with a free concert outside my window, I’m reminded of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. In that groundbreaking book, Carson underscored DDT’s power to alter the reproductive capacities of birds, causing entire species to become extinct and silence the singing of birds. I wonder, could war also have the potential to still Earth’s birdsong? To permanently leave us with an unbearable and totally silent spring?
As I watch in horror the violence inflicted on the people and landscape of Ukraine, I wonder if there is any birdsong left to be heard. I wonder if that war-torn country is suffering a contemporary version of “Silent Spring,” the kind noted by the Greek poet Odysseas Elytis, “incomprehensible…like birdsong in a time of war.”
But then I wonder also, might it be possible that there are other ways to sing, to keep the welcome music of spring alive these days? I’m imagining birdsong as the “Bridge of Toys” connecting Ukraine and Romania. The city of Sighetu Marmateiei filled the length of that bridge with dolls, stuffed animals, and other toys so that every refugee child leaving the familiar behind could choose a toy to cuddle for comfort. I’m imagining birdsong as the Polish train station where weary and desperate refugee mothers found baby strollers left by compassionate and knowing Polish mothers. I’m imagining birdsong as seven-year-old Amelia Anisovych singing Frozen’s “Let It Go” in a bomb shelter in Ukraine, her pure, innocent voice lifting hearts and spirits with every note. And I’m imagining birdsong as seventeen-year-old Russian Olga Misik, a small, lone figure sitting in the square in Moscow, reading aloud over and over again the section of Russia’s constitution which affirms the right to peaceful protest. The officers surrounding her listen to that music and are frozen in place, not knowing how to respond.
As witnesses these days to both the horror of war and the incredible bravery of the human spirit, might we be summoned now to find new and creative ways to keep the music of protest and solidarity alive? I ask myself, I ask all of us in our beautiful yet wounded world, how can we keep from singing?
Sit in stillness with the Holy One. You may want to enter into one of these practices as you begin:
- View one of the many YouTube clips of the song, “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from Les Miserables, connecting us to a similar struggle for freedom.
- If you live on an area where there is birdsong, open your window and listen to the music.
- Play a recording of birds singing.
Let the music sink into your soul. What does it awaken in you? To what are you being called?
Sit with this as you hold in your heart the suffering people of Ukraine and all the crucified peoples of our world.
Featured Image: Will Bolding, Unsplash
Thank you for your prayer for my IHM Congregation’s Chapter of Affairs, which concludes March 26. We are most grateful and will lean into your prayer again next month when we hold our Chapter of Elections for a new leadership team.
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