Posted by: Peadar Ban | April 15, 2012

What the Titmouse Said

Dear FJ,

A full measure of God’s blessings and grace to you!  How wonderful it is to be aware of the river, the torrent of grace which flows through us, pours down upon us every instant, forever and ever!

I am at home.  It is 8:00am.  I have been awake for a while and Mariellen has just come downstairs, so I took some moments to say good morning.  We are both in the little room we call the library, where the fireplace is.  On the hearth I have lit three candles – for the Trinity, and music plays: Lux Aeterna by Lauridsen.

As I sat reading an article in First Things, a short article about some fellow’s memories of John Hick, a liberal Protestant theologian, a strange thing happened.  I heard some slight noise and looked up.  The source of the tiny sound was a small bird, a titmouse, at my window.  It was the bird’s wings I heard fluttering as it hovered at the window, as if trying to get in.  It appeared to be looking straight ahead at the candle lights.  The music playing just then was the title piece of the album.  You know the words: “ Requiem aeternum dona eis Domine, et lux aeterna luceat eis.”  It is a longish piece, about ten minutes.

After unsuccessfully trying to get through the glass the little bird eventually settled on the window sill and there stayed, occasionally tapping on the glass with its beak.  I watched it from the corner of my eye and returned to my article, finishing it and beginning another one by Thomas Howard, about “Two Deaths”, one a death row inmate whom he had befriended and corresponded with for some years before his recent execution after thirty years in prison, the other Crown Prince Otto von Hapsburg.

About half-way through the second article I noticed the bird was still there, unmovingly looking directly at me, it seemed, with one round unblinking eye.  After some seconds of staring back, I got up and moved toward the window.  As I approached our eyes met(?) and I knew he at least (at last?) had noticed me.  He watched, calmly it appeared, as I came closer.  I stopped on my side of the window and he looked up at me quite steadily and, I thought, sure of himself, as if I had finally done what was expected of me in the situation.  Slowly I moved my hand to the window and touched it with my finger at a point just opposite his beak.  (It occurs to me to notice that what was “it” had become ”he”.)  He gently touched his beak to the window twice.

Then we watched each other.  The music behind me changed and something called “Dirait On” began to play, a favorite of mine   It is a lively tune, but restrained, disciplined, for an a-cappela chorus, part of a longer work setting to music five French poems by Ranier Maria Rilke.  This one, “Dirait On” (which I had to look up to learn it meant “so you say”) is about someone observing themselves and coming to a deeper understanding of who they are…I think.

I grew more bold with the bird after his window tapping and placed my whole hand on the glass.  He did not move.  He simply watched me.  I drew even more courage from that and moved to open the window; perhaps to see if he should like to come in and join me.  Alas!  He flew off to the weeping cherry tree and stayed briefly on a limb before going away.

But, it was a beautiful moment.

Back at my reading and listening and thinking I sat.  It occurred to me that I had been given a gift.  Indeed the whole day was I gift, and as that thought took root I began to feel very much uplifted, and I can only say, thankful.  After all, it is only polite to be and say, “Thank you!” for a gift, isn’t it?

Both of the articles, the music, the candles, the bird, all combined in my mind in a kind of complete picture which would take me a book to write about, I suppose, and even then I’d probably never get it right.  I am convinced I “saw” something I know to be true, something about the mystery behind what we call reality.  It had to do with the necessity and correctness of the Incarnation, of God’s perfect plan and of His great love for and joy in us, His children,  – so much so that He cannot let us go.

I know I am not putting this right – but then I do not think it can really be BE put right.  However I think of something I wrote long ago…a poem about Christmas…about Eternity entering Time, Infinity confining itself.  That’s an awkward and impersonal thing, I know…and though strangely ironic on a number of levels, perfectly appropriate for the season of Easter…  that an actual Person, you know, did that, actually became one of us.

The article in First Things “Remembering John Hick” helped me in my thinking about this.  It quotes/refers to “Dominus Iesus” :  “The question has moved (the question is whether there is salvation outside the church) from wheher non-Christians can be saved…to whether they are saved despite or through their own religions.”  We know the answer to that.

Then the other article, “Two Deaths”, a reflection on the meaning of our death – the great equalizer – which ends: “Both men in penitential weeds. Both pleading the paschal mystery as their only warrant for entry into the presence of the Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi, and then into the kingdom of the king of all kings, where irony ascends to mystery, and mystery to adoration.”

I thought to let the little bird in to me.  Could it have been that what was taking place was the bird calling me to follow and come out with him?

That was one of the thoughts that ran through my mind – that still does – as I looked through the glass and watched him turn once more to me before he flew away.  And, as I turned back into the room to sit quietly and think about the thing which had just taken place the three candles slowly, one by one, began to go out; first the tallest and then the other two.

It is Saturday, the Seventh Day of Easter.  It is how many years of Easter…of the Incarnation?  I am sometimes struck about the queerness that at that time not so long ago in the history of history God chose to become a child and a man whom we in our ignorance caused to suffer and die.  But, how silly we were, we were saved by that, and the world re-created, the face of the earth renewed.  That light lives and we in it, though in darkness mostly.

But sometimes, sometimes, “irony ascends to mystery” even here, and briefly, very briefly, as the small bird beckons and the Three Lights once again shine in our lives, mystery leads to adoration.

With Mary,



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