April 29, 2011

The Bird and the Window

On the Monday evening before Easter Vigil service at St. John the Evangelist Church in Vancouver, Washington, there was a buzz of activity. The class I had been attending since last fall was ending, and the time had come for our group to take the final steps necessary to come into full communion with our church.

There was a rehearsal for the big Easter service that night and all of us were there—about 10 altogether. Housewives, three healthcare professionals, a courier, lay ministers from the church, a former gang member, two retired women, dads and moms alike … such different people coming together for one purpose.

Over the year, we had become close as a group and we now collectively felt that strange, dichotomous, uncertain peace one feels when successfully ending one long journey and moving on to another—one that would be new, and somewhat unknown.

We dutifully filed into the sanctuary of our church at the appointed time. There was another group in there before us and we could see that they were not finished, so we quietly seated ourselves in the center of the room near the back so they would not feel rushed.

The group we were waiting on was one of seasoned volunteers from our church. They, along with our priest, were finalizing the details of the Easter Vigil service. They were laughing and talking comfortably down in the front of the sanctuary. They were sitting near the altar on the front row of pews and some extra chairs—in the full brightness of the only light in the room.

The church staff was in the habit of using minimal lighting in the sanctuary to save money and energy. Tonight, the only lights in use were in the very front. This left the rest of the sanctuary with a sort of twilight feeling.

In the back, we waited in dusky light for instruction. I could tell it was going to be awhile before our turn, so I pulled out a pair of almost-finished wool and cashmere socks. I tried knitting a few stitches, but it was really hard to see in the dim light. I looked up from my knitting and instead contemplated the situation in the room; they in the light of familiar anticipation, us in the darkness of anxious anticipation. We were like actors waiting in the wings to go on stage.

Before I could form some fantastical theological hypothesis about this, a soft thud turned my attention from this curious happenstance of light and shadow in the sanctuary. Then it happened again, then again. Where is that coming from? I set my knitting on the pew beside me. I listened. Thud.

Others were beginning to hear it, too, and we looked around silently at one another. The people in the front didn’t seem to notice the sound. The people around me started whispering to each other. After a time, we were able to predict the timing of the sound and sat in silence accordingly in an attempt to pinpoint it.

Finally, one of the women a few places down the pew to my left said, “There it is!” She almost shouted it in a whisper.

Then, we all saw it—a bird. It was repeatedly, if not rhythmically, running into a glass emergency exit door. A window.

We hadn’t seen it earlier, because it was obscured. The early spring sun was still setting fairly early and it was almost completely dark outside. The glass door had a coating on it so it would be opaque, blocking a view of traffic on the road outside. And who would expect to see a bird out in the dark, anyway?

We stared now in the direction of the bird thuds.

“I think it’s a parakeet,” one person said, “it looks green. You know, like a lost pet trying to get indoors.”

“No,” the whisper was returned by someone in front of them, “the light outside is that color. You know, the security light?”

A third, a bird watcher interjected, “I think it’s a Flicker.”

Over and over, the bird continued its pointless efforts.

Two people behind me were having another sort of conversation, “I bet it sees its reflection. It thinks the reflection is its mate,” said one.

“No, it sees itself as a predator,” returned the second, “it’s protecting a nest.”

From down in front, our pastor called out, looking up from his meeting, “It’s been doing that for days!” He had heard us. His previous knowledge of it explained his apparent indifference earlier, “We’re trying to figure it out, but we haven’t been able to stop it.”

Days? I thought, Isn't there some sort of "definition of insanity" joke to be made here?

Thud … thud … thud …

Someone made a wise crack, “It’s a Catholic bird! It wants in the church!”

No one laughed. Unspoken though the thought was, it seemed indeed as if the bird wanted into the church. All eyes remained on it for a bit longer.

After a few moments, the meeting in the light continued and we in the back stopped our whispering chatter little by little until there was no more. We watched.

I sensed that each of us was puzzling this out individually, certain that there must be some meaning to this curious bird behavior.

Thud … thud … thud …

I stared like the others. I leaned forward a bit. This bird was so determined, yet, it wasn’t getting injured. It seemed to know just how hard to hit the glass without breaking its neck.

I thought about some small birds that use to appear in my parents’ yard every spring. They would eat the orange berries that were produced by a particular tree in our back yard and then, intoxicated, fly into our large family room window. Many of them died each year until my dad finally had pity and removed the tree.

Our church bird was smarter than those birds. He had figured out just how much pressure he could exert and not hurt himself on the glass. It was evident that this bird saw something he wanted, whatever it was, and thought he knew how to get it.  He seemed to think tenacity was the key. This seemed so intelligent at first, but how smart was he, really?

As I watched his futile effort, I wondered about people—about myself. How many times in my life had I really believed that I knew all the answers, had leaned only on my understanding, no matter how na├»ve or uninformed I was?

I thought back to my childhood, building “houses” on our back patio out of cardboard boxes over and over again, and not understanding why a second and third floor did not work—why they always collapsed.

Thud … thud … thud

I thought of a weekend trip with my daughter to a mother-daughter camp a couple of years ago. I spent hours on that trip trying to teach myself how to knit a sock. I tore it out no less than six times that weekend, starting it over and over, only to finally, really understand the concept in a much shorter, six hour class later on. Maybe my time at the camp would have been better spent with my child.

My thoughts began to turn a little darker. How many times had I even thought I knew the answers better than God, Himself?

Thud … thud … thud …

I realized something more vividly that night than ever before. Something that I suppose I have known all along, but have never fully articulated to myself: Sometimes we need to reach out to someone older, wiser, more experienced, or maybe even someone more evolved than ourselves—as in the case of our little bird—to help us open the door instead of banging our head on it.

Maybe sometimes it is wiser to relinquish control and wait for the door to be opened for us.

My thoughts were interrupted by the call for us to come to the front. We all stood in relative silence and walked, together, toward the light.


Anonymous said...

Upon reading this I have Tears of Joy, Tears of Wonder and Tears of Gratitude that you continued walking toward the Light.....Janelle, the Easter Vigil was so special this year and I marvel at the patience you had in order to undertake the journey through the entire process of entering the Catholic Church. The community is privileged to have you as a member and I was honored to be a witness.

Mokihana said...

Beautiful post.... you have expressed many of my own feelings....