I've heard it said
That some birds, fleet and swift-feathered,
Have wings of such unspeakable genius
That, standing in a mistral wind,
All they must do is spread their wings
And up they rise, like dazzled pieces of the sky,
Without a flap, a cry, a slight exertion.
Lord, sometimes I feel
That that was me, in the wild romance
Of youthful faith, with all its breathless zeal--
A prayer, a thought, a single moment,
Could launch me whirling straight into joy,
The region of Thy glory, ineffable, immense,
Without a doubt, a labor, a spark of heartache.
But there are other birds, too--
Incarnations of earth and lake and tree,
Who take to the sky with thunderous work,
The torment of a hundred wingbeats
Raking the wind with fierce assaults
Until it lifts them up, grudging in submission,
To bear them to a better clime.
Today, sweet Lord, I am the second bird--
Where prayer, contentment, mystic bliss,
Seem like a strange and foreign element,
Wherein I can gain a momentary access
By herculean labors of ascetic toil alone;
And even then, I know I'm destined down--
Back down to earth from which I toiled to rise.
But I know that earth, that lake, that tree,
I know it better than I ever knew before:
The exultations of youthful faith had wings,
But knew not whence its flight made rise;
The consolations of ungrounded bliss,
While sweet, could not fly endlessly so high
Without the solid strength of a launching-place.
Now I stand, firm on the ancient, gracious rock,
And know that I am a thing of earth,
Of water, stone, and tree...but still:
A thing designed to ride the lofty skies.
I know that I must learn to fly,
Upborne by grace, by toil, by discipline,
Until I ride the zephyr winds to Thee.
Note to My Readers: from mid-June to mid-August (6/18 - 8/20), I will be taking a summer break from posting new articles for my Thursday and Friday slots. This will only affect my Thursday series on the global growth of Christianity, and my Friday series, the "Theological Bestiary" of birds, both of which will resume in late August. During the summer, I'll be dusting off some of my best essays from the first few years of this blog (a decade ago), as well as my verse play "Thus Ends the World," and re-posting them in the Thursday and Friday slots. All other weekdays will continue to feature new material throughout the summer.