She Talks to Angels



They alight with the alacrity of a spring morning. Noisy chirps and flutterings abound. Winged bodies bounce from perch to perch, finding place.

It’s dismal outside, but even these Cimmerian days can’t rain on their parade, that much is clear. Clawed feet pick and scratch at the earth. Beaks open and close while their tiny heads turn sharply at the slightest sound. The large one has clearly found the jackpot of seeds. She greedily fills her bill. I stroll toward them, smirking. What whimsy these birds conjure within me. What generous symbols of divine patronage.

I recall words from Barbara Brown Taylor about the practice of pronouncing blessings. She exhorts us to pay attention to the things around us in such detail that they begin to speak, if we but tune our ears to hear. Wendell Berry, she describes, took walks on Sunday mornings. He titled a series of verses which he wrote after such walks, “The Sabbath Poems.” In these poems, Berry makes a practice of dwelling on the earth with profound clarity and simplicity. He writes about such seemingly inconsequential things as trees in the wind and birdsong. The everyday and the commoner graces. The things we have grown accustomed to treading beneath our feet. But in listening to their voices, epiphanies abound.

This is a form of devotion.

And today, I set out early, purposing to put her words and Berry’s example to the test. Because the definition of devotion has been far too long confined to books inscribed with said title, resting on corners of coffee tables. But the truth of it is that the best translation of devotion has as little to do with reading words in a book as the definition of dance has to do with learning steps and following instructions. Both, perhaps, are the limited, faltering attempt of language to describe the experience of a soul set free. But both merely hint at the beauty of the thing itself.

As I listen to the twitter of my friends, I begin to speak back to them gently. And with utmost respect. I bless them for being alive and for their cheerful garbles, redolent with praise. I thank them for the part they play in keeping this ecosystem healthy and strong. I soothe them with the assurance that my approach means them no harm, but that I only walk toward them because in so many ways, their presence does me good.

And almost reluctantly, as the words leave my lips, they become a lens: I am addressing another cluster of cells and sinews, muscle and mucus and marrow. I am not the other, but still very much myself and full of my toast and tea just as these others are filling themselves with seeds. They are different from me and yet participants in the very life that beats in my chest. And this simple observation becomes a new way to see. An experience of incarnation, if you will.

And I know it’s unorthodox, but I can’t help but remember that the Greek word we translate as angels in the New Testament is really the same word that is in other places translated “messengers.” I wonder at the messengers nipping at my ankles, these blood maple leaves poking through the grass. I glance at them afloat in the endless blue above, serene and cirrus or severe and cumulonimbus. I smell them in the fragrant breeze, earth turned over with tractor blade and clunky tire.

Somehow these messengers have taken on a personality of their own by my blessing of them. I have inhabited space alongside them, and yet recognized our stark differences. They are guardians and guides, inspired by and attributed to Divinity.

Like angels, yes. Perhaps sent to lead me deeper into the ordinary activities of my day.

I side-step a dog pile. The piebald walnut waves her spindly branches in my direction. A few of the birds spook at my imminent approach and I slow.

Then, filtered sunbeams catch deep purple hues in the feathers that are given for the purpose of taking them skyward. They stir. They scatter. And then suddenly, as one, they soar.

I feel my soul rise with them.


Image credit: djc