St Kevin and the Blackbird
This is a remarkable comment by Liz Budd Ellmann of Spiritual Director International, published in the newsletter Membership Moments November 2009
For more than a thousand years, pilgrims have visited Glendalough where Saint Kevin played, prayed, and discovered his purpose. One day, the legend tells us, while Kevin the monk was praying with outstretched arms, a blackbird landed in his hand and built her nest. Imagine holding a prayer stance -- in Zen stillness -- long enough for a blackbird to build a nest and raise her young. The Irish poet Seamus Heaney beautifully teaches us about the spiritual companionship between the blackbird and Saint Kevin,
And then there was St Kevin and the blackbird,
The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside
His cell, but the cell is narrow, so
One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff
As a crossbeam, when a blackbird lands
And lays in it and settles down to nest.
Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the
Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity; now he must hold his hand
Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks
Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown.
And since the whole thing's imagined anyhow,
Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?
Self-forgetful or in agony all the time
From the neck on out down through his
Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?
Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth
Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?
Alone and mirrored clear in love's deep river,
"To labour and not to seek reward," he prays,
A prayer his body makes entirely
For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird,
And on the riverbank forgotten the river's name.
Saint Kevin’s whole body became a prayer of love that recognized God in an ordinary blackbird. Now imagine me, standing across the lake from Saint Kevin’s cave. Gazing into the lake, I contemplated the blackbird resting in Kevin’s hand and the call for contemplative action in today’s world to become responsible stewards of all God’s creation. Suddenly, my soul felt seen by Saint Kevin, staring out from his cave. In that instance, a robin started singing from a branch just over my head. In that thin place, I felt Saint Kevin’s love encouraging the kind of singing presence that sees God in all things.