I wish my bird-watching friend, Ginny, could have joined me for coffee on my back patio this morning. Alas, Ginny lives in Texas, so morning (or any other) coffee is an impossibility. In fact, the only time Ginny and I have partaken of morning coffee together is when we were enjoying insurance trips with our husbands. Along with our affectionately dubbed “Traveling Companions,” Linda and Kendra, we enjoyed many coffees, lunches and dinners. One of my favorites was at Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, but…I digress. Ginny, her binoculars and bird journal always in tow, could have helped me identify the various birds that were creating a morning symphony. There is one bird’s call in particular that I always hope to hear, the mourning dove. (To see and hear a mourning dove, click on this link: http://www.all-birds.com/Mourning-Dove.htm .)
I received a special mourning dove serenade a couple of years ago. It was a May morning in 2006. After four months and one canceled contract, we had finally sold our house in Oregon; our pending move to Arizona seemed to be progressing. Rather than the usual soft pattering of rain, I awoke to somber cooings I hadn’t heard since my childhood in rural Oklahoma. It took me a few sleepy minutes to identify the call, but then I remembered – the mourning dove. I lay in bed listening, wanting to hear every sad refrain before it flew off. I couldn’t remember hearing a mourning dove in our neighborhood before, and I was afraid it wouldn’t be there again.
A few weeks later, on our first morning in Arizona, I awoke to that same mournful call. (I realize there is some irony in being cheered by the call of a mourning dove.) I instantly remembered that recent morning in Oregon. I know the Lord is tender in His mercies toward us, and I wondered: had He sent that little bird to my Oregon window to prepare my heart for Arizona? Had he planted a seed of yearning that only this little bird could assuage?
This morning my yearning was not assuaged. The mourning doves must have been serenading some other heart. Instead, I enjoyed the chattering of their unidentified friends. I understand why St. Francis took the time to speak to them. (See Giotto’s “St. Francis Speaking to the Birds” below.) It is said he spoke these words to an attentive bird audience, “My little sisters the birds, ye owe much to God, your Creator, and ye ought to sing his praise at all times and in all places, because he has given you liberty to fly about into all places; and though ye neither spin nor sew, he has given you a twofold and a threefold clothing for yourselves and for your offspring. Two of all your species he sent into the Ark with Noah that you might not be lost to the world; besides which, he feeds you, though ye neither sow nor reap. He has given you fountains and rivers to quench your thirst, mountains and valleys in which to take refuge, and trees in which to build your nests; so that your Creator loves you much, having thus favored you with such bounties. Beware, my little sisters, of the sin of ingratitude, and study always to give praise to God.”
I wonder what St. Francis would think of our Starbucks culture. Would it remind him of his merry, carefree pre-monastic life? Would he find far too much “ingratitude?” Maybe he’d think a steaming latté is only a minor footnote to the fact that thousands of such drinkers make their way to churches, Bible studies, and countless places where beneficent labors abound. Maybe he’d think I should stop thinking about it and get on with the labors of my day.