Wednesday, July 05, 2006

God, Crickets, and Birds of Dawn

The older I get, the more things I notice—the more important things anyway. I tend to forget or be oblivious to many daily details, much to my chagrin, but I think I’d still prefer to notice the finer things, if the choice came down to that.

Some things can only be noticed at certain times of year. During the summer, and only during a certain few weeks of the summer, our monastic schedule enables me to notice something. It has to do with the coming of dawn. (None of this applies during the winter, for dawn comes far too late.)

There’s a certain moment when the birds wake up to greet the dawn. I don’t know how they do it. They don’t need alarm clocks, but they never oversleep—must be that healthy lifestyle. Now the crickets, they are the lords of the night. Their rhythmic and relaxing nightsong is quite compatible with silence, and even at their fullest chorus one would not be tempted to call the night anything but still.

If I am the celebrant of the week, I go down to church 20-25 minutes earlier than usual, to perform in silence the preparatory rites for the Divine Liturgy. That would be around 4:50 AM. At this time I know, because of chirping crickets and silent birds, that it is still night. But if I go down just those 20 minutes later, the hills are alive with the polyphonic joy of the dawn-welcomers. (No clever studio-mixing could reproduce this experience of immersion in a singing forest.) The birds know the precise moment of the dawn and are singing their greeting as if on cue. These are very special birds, it seems. I hear their calls only at dawn; other birds bear the burden and heat of the day. There’s one with a delicate little voice that sings outside my window for about a half-hour each morning—unceasingly—but is not heard again until the next dawn breaks.

So there’s a moment of passage between night and day, and all creation knows it. While most people are snoring (or perhaps grumbling as they smack their snooze button once again), the crickets and the dawn-birds are singing the praises of Him who made us all, who tells the sun the time of its rising and setting, who made the moon to mark the months, who tells the seas they can go thus far and no farther. You may say—if you can’t see beyond your textbooks—that all these things are governed by physical or biological laws. Well, I say that laws presuppose a Lawgiver, and that random associations of molecules don’t just blindly happen to commence singing precisely at dawn.

We live in a world of wonders, though it seems that many people are too busy to notice, or worse, are not interested in noticing the delicate displays of divine artistry, intricate design, and delightful harmonies abounding among the works of God’s hands. Life has its inescapable stresses and demands, but they are not the whole of life. Life is full of God, and because of Him it is also full of crickets and dawn-birds, morning glories and honeysuckle, sea-foam and mountain peaks, shooting stars and crescent moons, autumn leaves and jackrabbits and blue herons and mighty clouds of joy.

Don’t let life pass you by without your noticing all these things, and so much more. As I walk along our paths during springtime and see the wildflowers joyfully popping up on this side and that, I say to my soul: “See, He even strews my path with flowers!” One of our brothers used to say: “Lord, I’m not worthy, but I’ll take it!” God doesn’t immerse us in blessings because we’re worthy, but because He loves us. He wants us to open our eyes to the abundance of his gifts and simply give thanks, simply sing to Him at dawn. We tend to forget why we are here, why God made us in the first place. He made us to sing for joy, to be fountains of praise, to marvel at his glory and to imbibe his living love. Lord knows, we still have to carry the cross, but that's why He provides resurrection. He knows that the seed must fall to the earth and die, but that's why He gave it power to produce flowers and fruit. When we're fully aware that we’re wading in wonders, we’ll know how to deal with the challenges our lives bring. We will be much less inclined to turn away from our God when we know that walking with Him opens such a panorama of beauty and goodness.

All that the Lord gives us now is a preparation, a little foretaste of the glories of a new and ever-fresh Morning. In comparison with that, our life on this earth is a mere cricket chirp in the night. But if He abides in us and we in Him, we’ll recognize the precise moment of the Dawn of the everlasting Day—and we will sing!