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Starting Point

The beauty of our song plays as we love and hope


My friend wrote a beautiful letter to me. His words come from many parts of his life -- from his hopes, from those he loves, from scenes on his street and happenings in his hometown, the state, the world. Amazing how these bits of black before your eyes move you to all sorts of places -- to the world about you and to the inner life of one who places them on paper.

Near the end of the letter, his thoughts moved to wondering about the meaning of his life. “I hope I do something well,” he wrote. “I want to be remembered for doing some good.” He went on and shared with me a worry that his life is insignificant, that all his striving to find and do some good will amount to little.

It is early morning, and I am in the bonsai barn. It is too early for there to be light on the horizon. Just moments ago I heard the chirping of birds. We chanted the psalms at the night office a short while ago, and now nature is waking to greet and sing to the new day.

I know just where those chirps are coming from. There is a nest in a tree right across the road outside the door to this room. A few days ago, I saw a bird flying back and forth to the tree. I walked over and looked more closely and saw the nest. I saw the tiny heads of three baby birds, their eyes closed and beaks opened wide for food from their mother. Such a small spot of beauty. But within that small spot -- that carefully crafted nest -- dwell such lessons about providence, wonder, mystery and delight. It is all there: the making of the nest, the laying of eggs and warming them and waiting, then feeding and finding food and more feeding, and then, one day, those lessons of flight, and then the empty nest. So as beautiful as it is, it shall pass.

I think of how such cycles come and go when I see abandoned nests lying ruined in the grass, or falling to small pieces in trees. And yet, as paltry as it may look, a bird’s nest full of new life shows me how all things are of such immense significance. The song of birds in the morning says as much to me as a Beethoven symphony. And our lives say as much, too, though we do not see them all the time like that. Everything tends to be reduced by sheer abundance to a sense of the ordinary, the passing: We easily become blind and deaf to the enormity of it all as it envelops us, draws us in, and, at times, gives us pause to wonder if it all means anything.

Listening to the birds, I forget about myself for a moment or two and wonder about how the universe indeed has a song, too, but we are more often than not tone deaf to it. We may not be able to hear the melody, but we do live the song -- it plays through us as we love and hope and, yes, wonder about the meaning of who we are and what we do.

I return to the letter. I read the words of my friend again, which now move me as a yearning for meaning, a hope for redemption.

And Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air.”

How significant is everything? More than we know. More than we can sing. Maybe that’s why the fullness of it all comes with such power through the sweet song of birds who, like nature’s monks, greet the coming dawn in the dark of night and have no idea at all as to the beauty of their song. Are we any different?

Trappist Fr. James Stephen Behrens lives at Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga. His e-mail address is james@trappist.net

National Catholic Reporter, March 9, 2001