we perceived this Earth as a holy place, a thin place, a sacred dwelling, and we reverenced it; imagine if we reverenced everyone and everything and all that is in the Earth, and of it.
As we began lockdown at St. Beuno’s; as retreatants left and bedrooms lay empty, as doors closed and hallways echoed with sounds of leaving, as the silence took on a different hue, and it dawned on us that we had time on our hands and all the house, gardens and woods of Beuno’s to ourselves, a bird flew in to our universe.
It made its presence known, first, by way of words of a 12th century wise woman emerging from social media. That Hildegarde of Bingen popped up on Facebook in these first days of distancing felt appropriate somehow, given the circumstances. There is something apt now – meaningful perhaps – about a voice of wisdom from centuries yonder speaking into the present out of the blue via an online presence. What this Christian mystic said (conveyed by the writer and Celtic theologian John Philip Newell, by way of his ‘Conversations’ blog) was this:
‘We need to fly with two wings of awareness. The one wing is an awareness of life’s kindness, beauty and blessedness. The other is an awareness of life’s pain, struggle and suffering. If we try to fly with only one of these’, she said, ‘we will be like an eagle trying to fly with only one wing. In other words, we will not truly see.’
As the days went on and the sun grew hotter and the land emptier and drier, these words hung around. Lingering with us, they then, in fact, glided in to view, becoming form, as it were, in the shape of a real bird. Admittedly, not an eagle but kin nonetheless, the buzzard, soared, spiralling loftily, circling on currents of warm air in the blue sky above our heads, wings outspread, extended, as if in welcome of the world, rising tall in the winds of high spring. And each time we saw it – at first alone and then, many times, circling with its mate in the thermals above the trees where it was nesting – it was as if Hildegard’s words were written large on the heavens just for us as they plainly glided in to our awareness again, and again, and again: fly with two wings; truly see! The word of this winging creation was like ignition to the kindling of this bubble of stillness in which we found ourselves.
Hildegard of Bingen intuited (as Newell highlights so well), that everything is on fire with the divine; that there is a glistening – sparks – of the divine in all things. And what is called for then, is a quality of amazement that is radical. This radical amazement is the wing of wonder; the wing of attentive awareness of the incredible preciousness of every moment and every person and every thing and of the very gift of the breath of the light in one another’s eyes; of beauty, of new birth, of life itself.
The other wing is the wing of compassion: the wing of opening ourselves – our hearts and minds – to feel the suffering of others so we can experience our neighbour’s pain and need, and act with love, empathy, understanding and kindness. These two wings belong embodied together. In fact, they are not separate, for we are summoned to use them both as one and in relationship. If we don’t, as Hildegard says, we will not see – we won’t ascend a true height of seeing with vision and with power for one another. We need to fly with two wings to truly fly; to truly see. Then we might rise and move and have our being in the warmth and energy of the fire of love and community. Imagine if we flew together – flowed together – like this.
Judith is part of the team at St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre in North Wales.
This poem is part of the ‘JRS Imagines’ anthology, for Refugee Week. You can read more from the collection here.
Find out more about what’s happening at JRS UK during Refugee Week