There had been a vision forty years before. During an Aurora Borealis on an Island in Maine, a dark form had appeared in the midst of a pulsing and vibrating vault of fire and gold. The darkness at the center took the shape of small bird. And then the bird expanded towards me, swooped at unfathomable speed and as I stood transfixed and rooted to the ground, the bird passed over,almost as if great wind had passed. Then it burst in a flash of golden light and fire, a fire that did not consume. I was relieved.
No one else saw this visitation at the time and I didn’t need anyone at the seminary questioning my sanity, so I never talked about the vision until maybe seven years ago in a parish I had already been the priest for ten years. I write about this in my blog dated 2013, The Baptism of Jesus. This bird was no dove. It was something more fierce than that, more passionate, more potentially destructive and with healing power in its wings. As it turned out, I saw the bird that visited me that night in an icon imagined by Robert Lentz. It was a golden falcon, the symbol of the Holy Spirit for the Crow people.
It was now forty years later. I sat alone in the old 1835 rectory. My wife had left me for a woman who I brought into the parish. I was out of inspiration. I was both angry and relieved to dimly know what had happened to the marriage. Bob Dylan’s words, “You just kind of wasted my precious time” played on the radio. And yet the twenty plus years with her had been for most of them good years. She had been a good wife and mother to our three children. She had been the fierce lioness of protection and advocacy for our two children with special needs. But she was worn out and she discovered that she was in love with a woman.
I was worn out too, dead in the water. No inspiration came for the sermon I wanted to give on the Holy Spirit. I was dried up no words would come. Often towards the end of week, by a Friday or Saturday, if nothing was forthcoming, I’d simply pray; “Okay, I give up. What do you want me to say?” I probably should have been more intentional with that prayer at the beginning, but I still had a few lingering illusions that I could say it better than God.
I was almost at that point when a loud crash came from our enclosed back porch. The back window was shattered. A thousand pieces of white and blue and green glass was scatted over table, chairs and floor. I looked to see if someone had thrown a rock or an errant baseball. There was no one. In the far corner of the porch there was movement. A hawk cringed there in shock from its impact with the glass. It didn’t move. He or she was about 18 inches, with a wing span of about three feet. The hawk stayed perfectly still, its breast feathers an orange brown and white. I saw no blood. I spoke in a tone that I thought the creature might understand. “You rest now and I’ll show you to the door. I’ll pick up the glass while you collect yourself.” I was confident the bird understood every word and intonation. I worried that the bird might come out of its trauma and try to fly around the small enclosed porch. Slowly I approached her, I think she was a female, and encouraged her toward the door. My gloved hand gently moved her toward the opening and the deck beyond. After five minutes of gentle prodding the hawk reached the door and flew a few feet to the back of a metal chair on the deck. There it waited to gauge whether it had the energy and ability to fly the twenty feet to the branch of a Norway maple in the yard. She spread her wings and lifted up toward the branch, reached it with care and remained there for fifteen minutes. Then she flew away.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes with wind and fire, sometimes with a still small voice of calm. For me that day I needed the sound of breaking glass and a loud crash to focus my attention. That Sunday the sermon wrote itself. It was about the two birds breaking through into consciousness with their various messages about the holy. The first was a message to risk everything for the love of God. The second was a reminder that, “Hey. I’m with you. Everything will work out and you still have to write the sermon.”
I think the bird was trying to tell me, “Get out of your rut and SOAR.”
And so far, it’s been working. It’s all gratitude now.