Recently, the grounds men who mow our lawn noticed the sound of a new bird song. They could not identify it but we all enjoyed listening to it. There are many birds in our yard and I have written about them a few times. So I went looking on YouTube to try and identify the bird and also found a Mary Oliver poem that I had tucked away. I love her poems and she asks: is not the sound of a bird a prayer? Is not my listening, a prayer? Just for fun, listen to the bird song of a wren here.
Mary Oliver’s poems inspire me very often. This image of just listening, of holding her pen in the air is as if she is suspended in belief. Belief that the world is capable of goodness; belief that God’s Word is always being spoken. A favorite scripture passage is Isaiah 55: 10-12.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
After learning this so many times, I realize once again that prayer is listening. Some days it’s listening to a bird’s song. Some days it’s listening to a person share a story. Some days it’s watching the news and hoping I do not despair of a better world.
Mary Oliver and the unidentified bird reminded me that God’s Word is always being spoken, all around me in every sight and sound. So sometimes I just listen.
Here is Mary Oliver’s poem:
I happened to be standing
I don’t know where prayers go,
or what they do.
Do cats pray, while they sleep
half-asleep in the sun?
Does the opossum pray as it
crosses the street?
The sunflowers? The old black oak
growing older every year?
I know I can walk through the world,
along the shore or under the trees,
with my mind filled with things
of little importance, in full
self-attendance. A condition I can’t really
call being alive
Is a prayer a gift, or a petition,
or does it matter?
The sunflowers blaze, maybe that’s their way.
Maybe the cats are sound asleep. Maybe not.
While I was thinking this I happened to be standing
just outside my door, with my notebook open,
which is the way I begin every morning.
Then a wren in the privet began to sing.
He was positively drenched in enthusiasm,
I don’t know why. And yet, why not.
I wouldn’t persuade you from whatever you believe
or whatever you don’t. That’s your business.
But I thought, of the wren’s singing, what could this be
if it isn’t a prayer?
So I just listened, my pen in the air.