Today is the beginning of our salvation; the revelation of the eternal Mystery! The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace. Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos: “Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”
I had wanted to continue my ruminations on The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air by further considering The Moment that Søren Kierkegaard refers to when, after waiting in silence, “…the silent lily understands that now is the moment, and makes use of it.”
I don’t know what that moment consists of for you, for me, for us as a world community, or in our cities or church communities or families. No doubt there are overlapping times and seasons containing infinite instants, and only by quiet listening can we make any sense of them. But this passage in particular I wanted to pass on, in which the writer discusses what is missed when we fail to make the proper, standing-before-God kind of preparation:
“Even though it is pregnant with rich significance, the moment does not send forth any herald in advance to announce its arrival; it comes too swiftly for that; indeed, there is not a moment’s time beforehand…. But of course everything depends upon “the moment.” And this is surely the misfortune in the lives of many, of far the greater part of humanity: that they never perceived ‘the moment,’ that in their lives the eternal and the temporal were exclusively separated.”
So many thoughts swirl in my own noisy mind and heart that I could not imagine how I might find a way to share even these few gleanings with you. Then, in God’s providence and the church calendar, appeared someone who is the supreme example for us of being ready for the moment, that time in history and that time in her life, in a particular moment of a day, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Today we remember that event, when Mary listened, and responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
The Word became flesh and came to live with us, taking on all our human experience, its weakness and suffering and death. He defeated death, and opened the gates of Paradise. The Incarnation, the beginning of our salvation, is The Moment of history; our own “Yes” to God, echoing Mary’s willingness, can be the essence of our every prayer as well, as we wait on Him.
Kierkegaard exhorts us, in words that seem especially fitting for this time of uncertainty and change: “Would that in the silence you might forget yourself, forget what you yourself are called, your own name, the famous name, the lowly name, the insignificant name, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Hallowed be your name!’ Would that in silence you might forget yourself, your plans, the great, all-encompassing plans, or the limited plans concerning your life and its future, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your kingdom come!’ Would that you might in silence forget your will, your willfulness, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your will be done.'”
We know that God’s will for us is good, now as ever. Our inability to see or understand that is due to our weakness or sin, or His hiding of His works. May He give us grace to wait and to pray, and eventually we will see the full salvation of the LORD.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
“Let us now look more closely at the lily and the bird from whom we are to learn. The bird keeps silent and waits: it knows, or rather it fully andfirmly believes, that everything takes place at its appointed time. Therefore the bird waits, but it knows that it is not granted to it to know the hour or the day; therefore it keeps silent. ‘It will surely take place at the appointed time,’ the bird says. Oh no, the bird does not say this, but keeps silent. But its silence speaks, and its silence says that it believes it, and because it believes it, it keeps silent and waits.” -Søren Kierkegaard
I worked very hard last week to compose a second post on Kierkegaard’s The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air, which I am reading along with Mags. No good fruit seemed to come from my effort, though I wrote many words in a draft and searched for appropriately themed photos. When earlier this week I heard from Simone Weil through her anthologist Laurie Gagne, who was interviewed on Mars Hill Audio, that a writer must often wait patiently for the right word, it made me think more hopefully about the outcome.
I had begun at least two weeks ago, writing about the new bird community just on the other side of my fence, a few feet away from me when I garden. They are tropical birds in several large cages, temporary residents while their owners are between houses, and they are noisily chirping and even screeching from dawn to dusk. That long time ago, as it seems now, I was focused on their being jungle birds, surely not the sort that inspired Kierkegaard’s contemplations. I cleverly speculated that if Kierkegaard had lived in the jungle he wouldn’t have been likely to write the book he did.
But more pertinent to my present situation, only days later, is the fact that they are caged birds. And right now, many of us the world over feel like caged birds, in our efforts to slow the spread of a quickly spreading virus. Some are less restricted than others because they are in a type of helping role, but they also are at more risk. I, who am healthy and feeling in some ways younger than ever, have been grouped with The Elderly; I am trying to submit meekly, in my mind as well as my body, to my classification and assigned task: to stay home. In this regard, what Kierkegaard writes about seeking God’s kingdom first is something to take to heart:
“But then, in a certain sense is there in fact nothing I shall do? Yes, quite true, in a certain sense there is nothing. You shall in the deepest sense make yourself nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent. In this silence is the beginning, which is first to seek God’s kingdom.”
He does talk about how humans often enter into this silence when they are praying: “…as he became more and more fervent in prayer, he had less and less to say, and finally he became entirely silent…. indeed, he became what is, if possible, even more the opposite of talking than silence: he became a listener.”
Currently, the whole world is waiting. The necessity of waiting is a gift given to us, an opportunity, but if I only wait on the decisions of authorities and on the latest statistics, my waiting is of little value.
“This is also how it is with the lily, it keeps silence and waits. It does not ask impatiently, ‘When is the spring coming?’ [see Pippin’s daffodils at right] because it knows that it will come at the appointed time; it knows that it would not benefit in any way whatever if it were permitted to determine the seasons of the year. It does not say, ‘When will we get rain?’ or ‘When will we havesunshine?’ or ‘Now we have had too much rain,’ or ‘Now it is too hot.’ …. Then the moment comes, and when the moment comes, the silent lily understands that now is the moment, and makes use of it.”
Obviously I myself know little of this subject experientially, but Søren Kierkegaard and the birds and flowers and all of nature have a lot to share, which I love to pass on! Glory to God, that He somehow arranged for me to find this particular book, chosen for its brevity. Ha! Every paragraph seems to have a world of meaning that one could meditate on for a year. The author must have known how to wait for the right word, as Simone Weil talks about.
Suffering. Are we not all suffering right now? Suffering at the most superficial level by our own movements being curtailed, or because we can’t find our favorite food in the stores, all the way to those who are suffering in a holy and productive way, deeply in their souls, expressing coinherence with the healthcare workers of Italy or with the helplessly panic-stricken of any place. When I think of all the monastics and even my priest, who are accustomed to self-containment and waiting on God, who are praying for all the rest of us who pray little, I feel both grateful and ashamed. When I pray with them at all, via their live-streamed services, it strengthens my ability to wait.
Charles Williams coined that word coinherence that I used above, but I don’t think he invented the truth that each of us is mysteriously and mystically united to the other. Simone Weil knew about this, too, and not in a theoretical way, but in the compassion and solidarity that emanated from her heart. When she was only five, she heard that soldiers (in the first World War) had no ration of sugar, so she refused to eat sugar. And much later, when she was at the Sorbonne, we learn more from fellow student Simone de Beauvoir’s writings. When Weil heard about a famine in China, she burst into tears; de Beauvoir envied her for having a “heart that could beat across the world.”
Christ suffered on the Cross in taking on Himself all the death and suffering of mankind, and He calls us to do it for each other, to be little Christs, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s a mystery to me, for sure, but I hope that praying with my fellow creatures everywhere will help me to acquire more of this grace.
Regarding our own personal pain and death, Kierkegaard says that when we are silent, it makes our suffering less. This runs counter to modern culture in which we all want to talk in an effort to relieve suffering.
“The bird keeps silent and suffers. However much heartache it has, it keeps silent. Even the melancholic mourning dove of the desert or of solitude keeps silent. It sighs three times and then keeps silent, sighs again three times, but is essentially silent. For what it is it does not say; it does not complain; it accuses no one; it sighs only to fall silent again.Indeed, it is as if the silence would cause it to burst; therefore it must sigh in order to keep silent.”
And by that silence under suffering, Kierkegaard lists several ways suffering is eased; the bird – and potentially us humans! – are freed (I put these points into list form):
“1) From what makes the suffering more burdensome: from the misunderstood sympathy of others; 2) From what makes the suffering last longer: from all the talk of suffering; 3) From what makes the suffering into something worse than suffering: from the sin of impatience and sadness.”
Oh my, I’m afraid I have tempted you to the sin of impatience by my long post, so I am going to stop for now, though I still haven’t come to the end of my meditations on Kierkegaard’s First Discourse. Let me say, in closing, that I am praying with and for people everywhere who are distressed, joining my sighings with yours. I pray that our afflictions may be turned into the sighings of the mourning dove, who after all may be understandably melancholic about the true and sorry state of mankind. Her heartache and sighings become silence, and that is her prayer.
Mags and I are reading The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air together, and so far it is delightful to be in this mini book club with her. Once her copy of the book arrived she dived in with alacrity and even put the perfect amount of pressure on me, in the form of a meek suggestion, to post our responses as close together as possible.
So here I am, just where I want to be, challenged, but not alone, being in alliance and camaraderie with a friend who welcomes the exercise. I do feel that my engagement is feeble… or perhaps the situation is that Kierkegaard has revealed the feebleness of my soul.
Søren Kierkegaard published the first edition of this work in 1849, but he continued to think about the subject and to write about it in his journals. The translator Bruce H. Krimmse tells us this in the introduction, and quotes from the journals, reflections that I rather wish I hadn’t read, because what’s in the first half of the book itself is quite adequate for stripping away any sentimentality I might have about birds and flowers. As Krimmse says, “[Kierkegaard] never permits the reader to ease up on the oars and drift in an intellectual, ethical, or spiritual sense.” Also, these further explanations were confusing to me, whereas most of the first discourse was more accessible. Maybe this was one of the introductions one should read after.
Kierkegaard begins the first of the three discourses in this little book by telling us what is wrong with “the poet’s” response to Christ’s sermon in Matthew 6. I will put that scripture passage right here so you can review it if you want, or you can skip past easily:
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span oflife?28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you needthem all.33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, andall these things will be added to you.34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The poet, our guide tells us, hears this and despairs of learning anything from the bird, having a sort of romantic notion of the ease of the bird’s life, and “wishing” that he could be bird-like, but having excuses. He sounds humble and childlike, but he “lacks the earnestness of eternity.” However, “The gospel is so earnest that all the poet’s sadness fails to change it….”
We are exhorted to be childlike in a different way altogether, and here I find the image or ideal of the child as Kierkegaard describes him to be a striking contrast to what is expected by most people in the last several decades:
“…the child never says, ‘I cannot.’ The child does not dare to do so… precisely because the child does not dare say, ‘I cannot,’ it is not therefore true that it cannot….” There follows the same thought repeated in various ways, and I am grateful for this repetitive aspect of the author’s style, because I need these things drummed into my noggin.
Okay, so once we have got that essential point, that if God tells us to do something, it follows that we can do it — what is it we shall do? I use the word shall because Kierkegaard very clearly uses it as distinct from will, a distinction that I think has been all but lost since sometime in the last century. Now we might say, “I will learn from the bird, even though I don’t want to.” The child of Kierkegaard’s day would say, “I shall learn from the bird, even though I do not will to do so.” But wait – he wouldn’t dare to say that, or even think it!
Our assignment from Christ: to learn from the lily and the bird, and to seek the Kingdom of God first. I need to work harder to write a proper response to the remainder of this discourse, and publish it later, because that part is the meat of it, and the birdsong.
p.s. I used dived instead of dove above when referring to what Mags did because, although Americans use dove twice as much now, Mags is British, and they still prefer the older form. So do I. 🙂
The newly opened plum blossoms are the sweetest thing this week:
In the house, the refurbished little half-bath downstairs and the all-new full bath upstairs saw major progress. The little one was torn apart last July when it was discovered that a drain had been leaking into the wall. The wall was replaced, and eventually everything else, but the painting hadn’t been done until this week, so I only now hung the mirror I’d bought many months ago. It’s such a small space I had a hard time taking a picture of that.
The mirror is a sort of champagne color and I was a little worried about it blending in with all the other tones. But nothing unlovely jumps out at me at this point. I want eventually to have towels in there that are bright and contrasting, maybe in the aqua realm?
I’ve made a couple batches of Sesame Flax Crackers that my former housemate Kit and I discovered a couple of years ago. They are so easy, I don’t understand why I couldn’t manage to make them again before now. But then, the last 15 months of demolition and construction have been pretty consuming of my mind’s juggling skills. I could read philosophical novels and sometimes write about them, but I couldn’t take the few steps to bake crackers.
When Mags and I met via our blogs many years ago (we have still not met otherwise), we were both interested in reading the philosopher/theologian Søren Kierkegaard. I am pretty sure I’ve never read a book by him before, even though I somehow managed to write a term paper in high school comparing him to Sartre. It seems laughable now — or is it? Just now I’m feeling thankful for the confluence of people and events that made it possible for me to even hear about existentialism in my little high school out in the sticks. I wrote much more about this in a previous blog post that was a pre-book review: here.
Anyway, I bring it up again because neither Mags nor I ever got around to reading Kierkegaard — until now! We are reading “together” The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air: Three Godly Discourses, which is short, and consists of what are essentially sermons, but because Kierkegaard was not an ordained minister he didn’t think it appropriate to call them that.
My friend with whom I co-taught the high school class at church for two years gave me other books by Kierkegaard and much encouragement in my philosophical readings. I read a lot more online about what would be good to start with, and chose this book because I was pretty confident that we could finish 90 pages, no matter how challenging, and maybe get some momentum going for more of Kierkegaard. You know I will update you!
Surprise – the freesias are opening. I never even noticed the buds. Two insects found this first flower before I did. And lastly, below, my dear, dear little azalea plant that was part of a flower gift when my husband died five years ago is blooming right now. It has never been so beautiful!