I lay in bed for a few moments peering through the sliver between the curtains spying on the new day wondering what blessings awaited me. Listening to the outside world come alive, a familiar, long awaited sound slowly filled the morning – birds were singing. Rudely interrupted by the sudden weight of eight pounds of an energized feline pouncing on my chest let me know the cat was more than ready to start her day. The cat leaped from the bed and sprinted to another hiding place, probably behind the end table where she could launch another surprise attack. No doubt imagining she is the king of beasts single handedly bringing down a cape buffalo while clinging waist high to my pajama pants. The dog just wears me down with guilt laden puppy eyes, the cat is a monster!
While sleepily gazing at the steeping tea bag swirling slowly in the residual whirlpool left by the teaspoon, I once again was drawn to the birds singing, now in full force. A shot of joy ran through me and I grabbed my cup of tea and slipped outside onto the side porch and into the morning chill.
I was probably the only fool standing on his porch in February, but it didn’t matter I was enthralled with the bird-song fugue. On the telephone wire feeding the neighbors house, a spunky little song sparrow belted out his solo and each time his song was answered his little chest swelled with pride, revealing the tan, downy feathers on his breast, then he launched into an encore. Several cardinals, blazon in red plumage, traded licks in the apple tree, while frisky Carolina wrens offered jazzy little descants to the whole piece, whirly, whirly, whirl-rat-a-raa razz. Common sparrows were chatting up a storm in the rhododendron gossiping about the polyphonic sounds of the song birds, no doubt one of them said something offensive in the conversation as some flitted off to the neighbor’s porch. Far in the background a gaggle of Canadian geese let loose their dissonant score, which didn’t quite work in the piece. No matter, they were only passing through, their song was not to last, mere extras on this concert stage.
I love all four seasons. The cycle of life, death, and resurrection displayed over the course of a year is truly awesome. (Perhaps my favorite word to use, much to the annoyance of some friends and acquaintances. But I find most things awesome, awe inspiring, captivating. If the colors of a sugar maple in fall cause this great wonder in me, what ever will I do if I make it into the presence of Divine Awesomeness?) However, right around the end of February the winter grayness and gloom begins to weigh down my spirit, drag me into despondency. Then there are these feathered, half-pint harbingers of joy popping in and out of bush, tree, and porch; their song drawing me out of myself and shoving me closer to springtime jubilation – planting the garden, warm sunshine, Spring breeze through open windows, evening walks with my wife, Sarah, water gun battles with my boys.
The overwhelming sounds of the bird symphony was a great delight, one of those simple pleasures that lifts the spirit, lightens any burden, softens the heart. Within those short-lived trills and chirps of the avian invitatory I was reminded of the Lenten antiphon to the Invitatory Psalm for the Office of Readings – “Today if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.”
Just a few weeks into Lent and I would wager that some are struggling to hold fast Lenten promises – like me; others are trying to figure out where to begin; and still others confident and full of holy pride for sticking with their 40 day holiness regiment thus far.
Often we like to focus on the negative of Lent, at least I do at times. We get stuck in the rules and regulations – NO meat, NO big meals, No, no no. We tend to think we should not be happy because Jesus was not happy while suffering through the Passion. Depressing when only seeing Lent as a time of darkness and gloom, of a heavy handed focus on death and pain, giving up. The truth is there is joy in surrender, sacrifice, and dying to self because awaiting at the end of these 40 days is Easter.
You see, we are a Resurrection people and all of our motivation, our longing, and our desire for Christ arises from His victory over sin and death. Suffering, fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are all transformed because of the Paschal Mystery and caught up in Divinity, given meaning and purpose. That purpose is to rise again, to resurrect, to live forever. Christ has passed through death, conquered it and now shouts to us and reveals Himself to us in the Sacraments. Hear His voice calling you in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in the Eucharist, His sweet lover song wooing you and drawing you close to Him.
The promise of spring, of resurrection, of hope awaits us at the end of these 40 days and is a cause for singing, a cause for joy. In gratitude we strive to pray, fast, and give more. As we spend more of our time in prayer let us be attentive to the voice of the Lord calling us to conversion, beaconing us to pursue our Catholic faith, leading us through this Lenten pilgrimage to the joy of Easter.
“Today if you hear the voice of the Lord, harden not your hearts.” Even if that song finds its way to you in the simple song of backyard birds. See you next month around the campfire.