“That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over, Lest you thought he never could recapture The first fine careless rapture!”
Those words are immortalised in Robert Browning’s poem, ‘Home-Thoughts, from Abroad’, which some of you know off by heart from school-days years ago! The poem celebrates the English countryside in Spring, with the singing of the chaffinch and the song-thrush, and the arrival of the whitethroat and the swallow. Of course, he could have added the willow warblers and the blackcaps as well, which we have in abundance.
The song-thrush is often the first to sing in the dawn chorus here at Greenholme, although this morning it was the robin, followed by the blackbird, who, once warmed up, forms the bedrock of the orchestra. The song thrush was third and, once the melody is established, the indomitable little wren breaks out into his belting song. If your window is open and you weren’t awake yet, chances are you soon will be, even if its now only 3.30am! A short while later the others join in; great tit, chaffinch, dunnock, blackcap and willow warbler. For us, though, the blackbird tends to save his most beautiful song for the evening, best enjoyed while sitting outside after a hard day’s work, relaxing with a cool beer, or better still, a refreshing gin and tonic!
Biologists tell us that the dawn chorus has to do with birds reclaiming territory, or calling for a mate, and put forward various theories about why that is the best time to do this. It may be to do with the amount of light, making it easier for predators to spot singers when its lighter; or while its still too early to be foraging for food; or competing for a mate by showing off how powerfully they can sing.
But actually the real reason is because they’re celebrating and thanking God for a new day to be alive – its spring going on summer, and the world is full of promise – let’s sing! And what a song – the whole wood reverberates with a cacophony of glorious music that surrounds and lifts the spirit in its unabated energy and delight. Such joy – its so good to be alive!
Since the earliest days of the Church, the dawn has been greeted with joy as a symbol of God’s new creation, the rising of Christ from the tomb, new life breaking out of the darkness of death, the gift of God, and thanking him ‘who hast safely brought us to the beginning of this day.’ “Lauds” its called, from the Latin meaning ‘praise’. And each day is a gift. We only live it once. We will never pass exactly this way again. Each encounter, each moment, even if it seems routine, is never the same. The world has turned another spin, aged a fraction, and so have we.
And no one knows when their time will come. This month I have known of two sudden deaths that were completely unexpected; people who were making plans, doing the normal routine things, buying plants for the summer, or going out to take the dog for a walk, and then suddenly they’ve gone. I know some of you have lost loved ones in the same way.
This makes it so important to live each day with kindness and grace. So many people carry hurt and pain around with them, like a burden slung over the shoulder. The refusal to forgive those who have hurt us, or we feel have cheated us, or been mean, unkind, or selfish towards us, who don’t ‘deserve’ forgiveness (as if anyone does), weighs us down, resulting in bitterness and resentment. We rehearse the hurt, recalling the unfairness, and it acts like a cancer in our spirit and our body. But this is not life, it is death, and no good will ever come out of it. No, the gateway to life lies through the difficult door of forgiveness. But the reward is freedom: freedom to love and so freedom to live. The strength to open that door and take that path comes from God, himself, in his Holy Spirit, who brings the forgiveness of Christ to us in the stillness and the song.
And if the biologists are right as well, perhaps we could learn a lesson from the birds. What if we were to solve all our disputes and arguments, personal and global, by singing the most beautiful song? Imagine what the world could look like then…
Your friend and priest,