Sunday, October 18, 2009

What Happened Next: Hummingbird Visits

Here's what happened next, and what I wrote the next day, the day after abandoning my story of going godless in favor of my "love affair with the earth".

June 11, 2006.

Last night something happened. I left the "Twenty Questions" exercise discouraged, dispirited, story-less. Walking up to dinner alone on the boardwalk through the alder marsh, I moved slowly, savoring those lush greens, the thick moss on the rotting log lying in the mud, and those plants with leaves shaped like the blades of canoe paddles. And the whole grove soaked in birdsong.

That's when I decided that I would write about my "love affair with the earth," a pulsing artery of life and energy that has been part of me my whole life though so often submerged, undervalued, and overlooked. It has so often been the most lively and life-giving part of my life, and yet it so rarely seems to fit with liturgy or lectionary (the prescribed biblical texts that Episcopal preachers, and many other denominations' clergy, are expected to preach from in their sermons).

Something made me think of the baby's ear, the small oval seashell a little smaller than my thumbnail, one of the few objects I brought with me to "hold my place" in the centerpiece we built together at the hub of our circle where we meet several times a day. I brought it here because I've always loved those shells, and I couldn't think of anything more appropriate to bring, not because it has deep symbolic meaning for me, nor does it carry vivid memories of people, time or place. Standing in that marsh, I figured that if I hoped to have anything to write, I would have to listen with a baby's ear.

After dinner my small group partners and I met briefly to read to each other and lend support before the full group was to mark our entry into silence and solitude. After all three of us had read something, we each drew one of D's angel cards.

I have to confess: I don't really do angel cards. I don't "get" them, don't really know the point of them or how they're supposed to work! Is this an East Coast-West Coast kind of divide? Or another example of how my whole proper New England intellectual, rational identity, overly limited by the Episcopal clergyperson-box, is cramping my style? I'm probably making a simple thing way, way too complicated.

In any case, I took a card. It said "Simplicity". D's card said "Surrender"; J's said "Joy". I of course thought their words were more appealing than mine, although I didn't say so. Actually, I wouldn't have wanted surrender any more than simplicity. What I wanted was joy.

Together they made a pretty good trio--simplicity, surrender, joy. We agreed that all three words could be gifts of wisdom and inspiration for the three of us. (Is that all angel cards are? Or are they thought to be imbued with prophetic powers?)

Later in the evening, I sat for a while on the ground with my back to the wide, outermost skirts of the towering Douglas fir that keeps watch over the meadow. My face was toward the sun sinking behind distant trees and across the nearer fields. A familiar rich buzz caught my attention--a hummingbird! I know that sound well.

Even though I couldn't see her, I knew it was a hummingbird. I got up and peered into the branches of the fir but never saw her. Still, it was a visitation, perhaps even an annunciation, if only I could catch the message. Had this bird somehow come because she knew I needed her? It hardly matters.

What matters is that she visited, and I heard her and was greatly cheered. Afterwards, some coyotes partied briefly in a neighboring meadow, whooping and hollering at the rising full moon. I went to sleep with my baby's ear soaked in wild, delightful sounds. Simplicity.

Still, in the night I dreamed I was among a group of writers who were busily cranking out pages and pages, and I alone hadn't even gotten started. I woke briefly at 4 a.m., fearful that I'd have nothing to write today, then slept again until 5. Despite overcast skies, songbirds were in full chorus. The cries of a larger bird roused me; I got out of bed.

If I'm going to write about my love affair with the Earth, I thought, I guess I'm going to have to let myself be taken, unabashedly taken, holding nothing back.

I decided to take my morning shower outdoors at the shower behind Marsh House, even though the weather was not what I might have chosen for such an occasion. It addition to the cloud cover, fog hung in the valley and heavy dew dampened every surface. When I arrived at the edge of the meadow with my towel, shampoo, and soap, a cool wind stirred.

I threw my towel over the horizontal rod, next to a potted pink verbena plant, then started the water running to let it heat up. When the water was almost too hot to touch, I stripped as fast as I could--shoes first, then socks; my pants and underpants in one quick movement. Finally my nightgown and fleece together.

I ducked under the stream of water quickly, but not before the cool air had stirred and wakened my nipples. Even my middle-aged breasts, saggy from nursing my two daughters years ago, now felt full and alive under my hands as I soaped them. My nipples stayed firm; blood and energy pulsed. Air wind water taking me. Surrender.

I don't know how long I enjoyed the water and my own flesh, probably not very long. I knew I had to leave the warmth of the shower and hand myself back to the cold air. I quietly coaxed myself through it.

"OK, you can do this . . . ready? Water off . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . NOW!"

For a few seconds, perhaps even ten, I stood, wet skin to cool air, alive, nerve ends alert. Then I pulled the towel down and began to dry off.

Suddenly she's there. From over my right shoulder I hear her distinctive humming wing blur.

"You're back!" I whisper, but once again I can't see her. I stop my drying, stand still, and wait.

Now she's in the tree branches just in front of me, moving forward, doing small aerial dance steps. Left a little, pause; right a little, another pause. She comes closer.

I am holding my breath, my heart pounding. She hovers about a foot from my face, hangs there, expending all those calories to visit me, hovering just there. She moves left, pauses again, then darts away.

"Thank you," I whisper as she departs. Joy.

Why have I waited this long to use the outdoor shower, I ask myself? How many showers could I manage to take in one day?

Not long after I remember that this was Trinity Sunday, a day when most clergy I know are glad to have a guest preacher. I totally understand. I mean, who in her (or his) right mind wants to perform the theological acrobatics necessary to make the idea of God "in unity of substance and trinity of persons relevant for today?

Not me. I'm off to the garden to cavort with roses and poppies.


  1. Baby's ear -- I love this! In Zen we call it beginner's mind. Meeting life in simplicity without any scripts.

  2. Or as T. S. Eliot said: "A condition of complete simplicity/costing not less than everything."