Respites of Joy

A crow flew to a branch above where I sat eating last week. It happened a few days in a row. The whole thing stands now like watercolor in my mind, like art that tells a story:

The yellowish green canopy above my usual lunch spot lurched toward gold and crimson. All those leaves blew against gray on white clouds pierced by a distant blue. I watched as a lizard scurried into beams on a bench nearby. Then the flutter of black wings and the deep throat-ed call of a crow broke the spot’s stillness. Just yards away, the contrast of its black cloak against its multicolored throne stabbed with a mysterious impression hard to explain. I was feeling down and frustrated from work, but the whole scene provided a joyful distraction that briefly elevated my spirit.

The next day I sat their again, in the mist, under overcast skies. This time, a large crow (the same one?) perched just above me. I lifted one of my chips as if offering him the Eucharistic Body. He bounced back and forth on the branch, bending his head low, fixing one of his oil-like eyes upon me. I tossed the chip just there, on the cobblestone altar with bloodstained yellow leaves. He hesitated, looking long at the offering. My time was up, I had to go, but I spied him later through the glass, scouring the leafy courtyard for his daily bread.

Photo by Felix on

A package came for me at work that day- my pocket edition of S. T. Coleridge! I reveled in its posh plume jacket and artfully embossed spine. As I thumbed the pages, my eyes fell upon these lines:

O beauteous birds! Me thinks ye measure
Your moments to some heavenly tune!

Coincidence? Providence? Well, I don’t believe in sheer coincidence, so . . . Before, when the crow surprised me in the courtyard, I secretly longed for him to utter some dark riddle or prophecy. And I believe he did. I had an inexplicable sense that the whole scene was spun by the Master Poet, the True Spell Teller, just for me. It flew down right when my spirit struggled, tossed by waves of frustration and exhaustion. The whole thing sparked a darkly tinged gladness. It provided a brief alcove of hope, a fleeting respite of joy. I’ve had these sorts of experiences before. I know I’m not the only one.

Of course, some will chalk it up to chance, or to psychological peculiarities, or even to biological evolution. But on theological grounds, even “chance” falls under the umbrella of Providence – so that’s out. And I personally know others I trust, who don’t share my particular psychological quirks, who say they’ve had similar experiences – so that’s out too. And if, as the priests of biological evolution insist, I can’t trust my spirit about such experiences because they are fictions of the brain, developed for the survival of the species, then why, in turn, I ask, should I trust the brains that come up with such theories? No, self defeating philosophies must go too.

I think these respites of joy make most sense viewed from the Church’s Credo. The Church knows the Father of creation as the ultimate gift giver, extending Jesus and the Spirit as two open hands. All his children know he gives good things to those who ask. But even when we don’t ask, he sometimes astonishes us with secret manna. He seldom spoils us with such things, but gives us what we need when we need it. Just when you think your last guiding star has sank into darkness, your faith gone, your hope dashed, he sends you a fiery, yet fleeting token of his love! At such times, I’m reminded that the Bard is still spinning his grand tale and I’m one of the characters. I’m a lyric in the Master’s poem; I’m wet paint in his unfinished watercolor.


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