I looked at this drawing of an injured bird and felt tender inside. I lingered for a while with that feeling and the sense of being held. Then, in the retreat’s spacious silence, I reflected on a poem by Mary Oliver. It began like this:
In the afternoons,
in the almost empty fields,
I hum the hymns
I used to sing
They could not tame me,
so they would not keep me,
and how that feels,
the weight of it,
I will not tell
any of you,
I looked at the wounded sparrow again and heard the words explode with meaning.
The hymns I used to sing … could not tame me … would not keep me … and how that feels … the weight of it … I will not tell … not ever.
Sadness welled up in me. For Mary Oliver. For myself. I thought of my leaving of one church to attend another nearly four years ago. The weight of it is not so heavy now, but apparently, it’s heavy enough to bring me to tears.
I saw Jesus’ hands holding me, gently bringing this wounded sparrow to his chest and stroking my head with his finger.
“Tell me about the weight of it,” he whispered.
I went for a walk and let the losses come to mind. It felt like a divorce: amicable, irreconcilable. It felt like walking by the house I grew up in and seeing a stranger through the window, washing their dishes at the sink, looking up at their family’s photos on the wall.
What stands out for me as I write and what I talked about in spiritual direction a few days later, was not my grief, but the experience of being held and seen. God saw the traces of my sadness and knew that I loved more deeply than I thought I did.
I talked and wept for the hour-long session, voicing the trembling beliefs I held in my cupped heart: God hears what I haven’t told anyone ever, not even myself.
“And where does that take you?” my director asked softly.
I shook my head. “Nowhere. There’s nothing I need to know … or do … but rest and lean my head against God’s chest.”
Soon after that, I had the dream of the car crash. The next day I wrote about it. Later that week, my shoulder began to hurt. It got increasingly worse until I finally went to the emergency department of the hospital. I was convinced I’d pinched a nerve, but it was bursitis.
“Just rest and take anti-inflammatories,” the young doctor said.
I did and, though the pain was relentless, God was with me. God held the weight of it; God was in the core of my being, breathing in the pain and breathing out peace. God was behind the closet door whispering, “You’re not alone.” God was holding me tenderly, stroking my head.
Thankfully, my body began to heal. I’ve even had a few good nights’ sleep.
Mary Oliver goes on to say,
Once a deer
stood quietly at my side.
And sometimes the wind
has touched my cheek
like a spirit.
I know what that feels like. It feels like being okay right where I am because God is here too: the deer at my side, the wind touching my cheek.
He Will Know
When your heart is in despair
He will know
When you feel beyond repair
He will know
When your day is filled with tears
He will hear
When your night is filled with fear
He is near
When this world leaves you behind
He will know
When it all seems so unkind
He will know.
–Music and Lyrics by Byron O’Donnell and Brian Wakelin,
Performed by Steve Bell on Devotion.
I am so grateful for the Love Mischief of Steve Bell. He finds and sings songs that God wants to sing to us. Thank you, too, to Byron O’Donnell and Brian Wakelin who wrote this song (lyrics above). Thank you for sharing your experience of God’s love in those days when the weight of life was too much.