Saturday, August 12, 2017
CANTICLE OF THE BIRDS
True story. Thursday morning at morning prayer, as we were singing the hymn for Lauds, a bird began chirping happily, her voice coming through the open window behind me. As she sat on her branch in the garden, she seemed to be consciously joining her voice to ours, enjoying singing harmony to our baritone voices.
So, this morning, as I sat in church at 5:30 for meditation, I noticed the busy chirping and chattering and trilling going on outside in the garden. I thought I recognized the voice from the other morning. I occurred to me that the birds had been awake for some time now, and were singing Vigils. (Vigils is the first prayer hour of the day, and Matins consecrates the hours of the night, of silence and darkness; it’s a time of prayerful, quiet waiting for the coming of the Lord, who, the Gospels say, will come in the early hours of the night.)
I enjoyed listening to their singing, and began looking forward to having them join the monks for Vigils in half an hour. At the appropriate time, the bells in the church tower sang out, calling the monks to prayer. I’d never noticed how loud the bells are. I tried to hear the birds voices underneath the insistent calling of the bells, and noticed that, one after the other, the voices stopped as the ringing continued. When the tower bells stopped, and the morning quiet returned, the birds had stopped their singing.
Figuring that this was just a temporary pause, I still hoped to hear from them again when we began Vigils ourselves in the monastic choir. No such luck. As we sang, I heard nothing more from the birds’ choir in the garden. I was truly disappointed that we monks had to do this on our own.
It occurred to me that maybe the birds, once they heard the bells for Vigils, decided that they would now hand over the task of praising God to the monks who were filing into church. The birds, I figured, had all gone off in search of breakfast, having finished for the moment their duty of praising the Lord. But then, I thought, birds and monks are not the only creatures called to praise the Lord. All of creation is involved in a constant song of thanks and celebration, from the angels on down. Since I couldn’t hear the birds, I began imagining the trees in the garden praising the Lord by lifting their branches toward heaven; I saw the sun’s rays sifting gently through some open windows as Sister Sun sang her praises; Sister breeze joined us as well, through the same open windows. I couldn’t see the sky, but I sensed that clouds were joining us as well in our work of praising and thanking God. I do wish, though, that the birds had joined in as well. But, to be fair, they had been singing Vigils since four o’clock, and deserved a rest.
You might enjoy re-reading Francis of Assisi’s take on this experience of all creation praising the Lord, his “Canticle of the Sun.”
Some of his early verses read:
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.