We’re buried under a foot of snow, but the birds won’t stop singing.
March descended with a roar of northern winds and broke the clouds as they crashed about up there in the white sky. Snow and more snow fell and fell.
We are wrapped in winter’s white but the finches are gathered in the clusters of last summer’s leaves in the clematis vine near my kitchen window. An oriole has stopped his journey homeward to munch on the dried crabapples hanging on the bare branches of the tree by the front door. In a day or two he’ll be gone. The orioles land for pit stops but never stay.
And they sing. For all accounts it is winter, but they chatter on about the coming spring. They cluster and they fly and they wing from branch to feeder to fence line, from hope to hope to hope. Spring is coming. It always does. And the birds don’t doubt it.
A few years ago, I awoke in the night. It was late February and my heart was sad. I was missing a friend, mourning a dead relationship, moving on day after day toward a happier season. But something awakened me in the night and as I walked to the kitchen and reached in the dark, by memory, for a glass to fill with water; the sadness covered me like a shroud or a heavy, itching wool blanket. As I drank water in the dark, I heard it: birdsong.
It wasn’t morning and dawn was a long way off. It was a moonless and deep-shadowed night, but the clear song came remarkably through the walls and windowpanes and settled into my soul.
Hope. I know that birds do that. They sing in winter and in the night.
But on that night, in my winter? I took is as gift and let it make it’s home in my heart.
Emily Dickinson wrote:
“Hope” is the thing with feathers— That perches in the soul— And sings the tune without the words— And never stops—at all— And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard— And sore must be the storm— That could abash the little Bird that kept so many warm— I’ve heard it in the chillest land— And on the strangest Sea— Yet, never, in Extremity, It asked a crumb—of Me.
Victor Hugo wrote:
Let us be like the bird for a moment perched
On a frail branch while he sings;
He feels it bend, but he sings his song,
For he knows that he has wings.
I awoke early from a startling dream
Emotions so palpable — less surreal than should seem.
As I lay parting from chains of repose
I wondered, or worried…
And questioned my woes.
Days see my chin up, shoulders straight under strain;
At night, in my sleeping, guard down
And persistent gripe of the spirit
Holds court in my mind, knowing I fear it.
I broke the from the stillness
Seeking answers to right
The questions of consciousness borne in the night.
A great of sense of failing, motives misunderstood —
Bore down upon me as nothing else could.
How long must I carry a fear this looming,
These thoughts in the night swathed in darkness glooming?
A word, soft and sure as the brushing of time
Breathed this answer, so quiet,
Both lilting, sublime:
As the bird in winter still sings,
So you will endure
And so you shall sing.
And proof! Such mercy!
From my window was pressed
A cheerful voice ringing
No longer suppressed!
Crystals of ice on tender leaf clung
Yet there in mid-winter, the song had begun!
Held still as the stone I strained to listen
To the birdsong of night as it gleamed, as it glistened.
Hidden high in frosted beams of pine
Its clarity richer by the cold refined.
Bells pealing in towers no clearer could be
Than the birdsong of winter
Given to me.
The dream’s haughty reaches
Retreated but slight
My vision sought to find that which my ears knew to be right:
Not yet the dawn breaking
Not yet morning gleam
Not yet the light taking the day to redeem.
And still sang the singer
In shadow’s cold grave
He sang on, Tiny Bringer. Unfailing
He gave. He gave.
Winged creature of day by night came to me
Gave flight to my fears
And my hope seemed to be
Brighter than summer’s midday shine,
Brighter than glittering frosted lawn,
Brighter than any winter-gray dawn.
Singer, Bringer, Giver – Stay!
Keep hope in flight, my fears at bay.
But no! The singing did cease–
Yet I focused in effort to hear.
My brow creased.
Yet, echoing still
In the vast opening light of my soul, of my will,
Sang the singer, sang on
Undiminished and long:
“As the bird in winter still sings,
I too will endure,
And so shall I sing!”
I am not Emily Dickinson or Victor Hugo (I’d say it in fewer words if I were a poet). But like them, I want to hear the song and sing along, to wing steady on faith.
In the gales of winter, in the dark of night, there is hope and a song and the strength to go on. We may feel the bend, the risk of perching upon that solitary stand of hope, but we have this strength called faith that keeps us ever winging, ever singing about the spring to come.
My spring is Christ and his returning. Fear and sadness may darken my world, may surround me in a cold embrace, but the song still comes.
I sing the song of hope over the frustrated, the lost, the frightened. I have stroked the soft hair of sisters’ and children’s heads and repeated this refrain: hope, hope, hope.
I looked for it’s light in the dark days when morphine kept me insulated from the full force of pain; and I found it in the faces of those who loved me, who lent me smiles from God. There are darker winters than my winter, deeper drifts of sadness than I have known, but my long nights have taught me this: spring is coming; the dawn is breathing light upon the horizon; Jesus will return.
Hope is the gift of the moment, the birdsong that needs no words, just a melody and a little faith.
Friend? Will you sing along today? Have you felt overcome by the dark, by the questions that plagued you in the night and informed your thoughts by day? Can we sing in hope’s harmony and declare the Light is coming?
“For, lo, the winter is past;
the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth;
the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land.”
Song of Solomon 2:11,12
I’m reading this book about laying down our idols, opening up to the best goodness of Jesus. It’s called Love Idol. It’s the story of Jennifer Lee, once a perfectionist with big dreams who learned how to be taught by the small things, and there found joy and true purpose. Click on the book cover for more information and to meet Jennifer.