Reflections on ravens: curiosity, creativity, and cultural messenger.

Songs about blackbirds and ravens (note: these are different species): 
Blackbird by The Beatles (rock)
Blackbird Song by Lee DeWyze (ballad/blues)
Raven Song by Elephant Revival (folk)
Blackbird by Nina Simone (blues)
The Raven by Alan Parsons Project (electronic rock pop based on Edgar Alan Poe’s work)
Hear Me O God, Nor Hide Thy Face (Christian choral music)
How Many Are Your Works (Christian hymn)



How sweetly did they float upon the wings
Of silence, through the empty-vaulted night
At every fall smoothing the raven down
Of darkness till it smil’d.
— John Milton
 
The Raven (excerpt) — Edgar Allen Poe

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door —
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door —
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore.
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the Nightly shore —
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!”
Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore.” …

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Cultural Quips about Ravens 

Did ever raven sing so like a lark, That gives sweet tidings of the sun’s uprise? — William Shakespeare

For out of black soul’s night have stirred dawn’s cold gleam, morning’s singing bird. Let black day die, let black flag fall, let raven call, let new day dawn of black reborn. — George Woodcock Honestly, all crows are not ravens. — Munia Khan

The raven spread out its glossy wings and departed like hope. — Cecilia Dart-Thornton

Ravens are at home everywhere. They only have one enemy: humans. — Bernd Heinrich

Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens claws. — Jim Morrison

Does wisdom perhaps appear on the earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion? — Friedrich Nietzsche

My love, she’s like some raven / At my window with a broken wing. — Bob Dylan

Needless to say, urgings by ravens are ignored at one’s peril.  — James D. Doss

But the black raven, the bird over the fated men, will tell, will say to the eagle, how he succeeded at the meal, when he with the wolf plundered the slaughtered ones.  — The Beowulf Poet

For this reason, the lean wolf in the wold / rejoiced, and the dark raven, a bird greedy for slaughter. — Cynewulf

It is said that when Raven created the first world, he made everything perfect, a world full of happiness and beauty, without pain, suffering, or ugliness. But Raven grew bored with this perfect world and started reshaping things. — Catharine Feher-Elston

One raven does not peck out another’s eyes. — Danish proverb

Censure acquits the raven, but pursues the dove. — Juvenal

The cry of a young raven is nothing but the natural cry of a creature, but your cry, if it be sincere, is the result of a work of grace in your heart. — Charles Spurgeon

Ravens are the birds I’ll miss most when I die. If only the darkness into which we must look were composed of the black light of their limber intelligence. If only we did not have to die at all. Instead, become ravens. — Louise Erdrich

Commentary on Elijah and the Ravens

Elijah had enough, but it did not always come to him in the nicest way; for I do not imagine that the ravens knew how to get bread and meat always cut into nicest shape. Perhaps they snatched a rough bit of meat here, and perhaps a crust of bread there, and it came in all sorts of ugly pieces, but still, there it was, and it was enough. “Beggars are not to be choosers,” we say, and certainly pensioners on God’s bounty ought not pick holes and find fault with the Lords providing. Whatever God gives thee be grateful for, for if too proud to take from the raven’s mouth, it will be well for thee to go without, until shine hunger consume thy pride. God promises his people enough, but not more than enough, and even that enough may not come to us in the way we should choose. — Charles Spurgeon

God knows what you need, and he knows when you need it, and he will make sure you have it in time. As he sent the ravens to Elijah, he can command all heaven to come to your aid … God lets those things happen to move us from self-sufficiency to God-sufficiency. From self-reliance to God-reliance. From trusting in our own ability to trusting in him alone. … You should plan ahead. That’s biblical. You should plan ahead but you shouldn’t worry ahead. There’s a big difference … we would have been less surprised if God had used a robin redbreast or a meadowlark or a turtle dove to bring the food. But that is not how God works. He routinely chooses the despised things of the world in order to confound the mighty, and he uses the foolish to bring the strong down to nothing. As you look at the course of life, you may think that God is going to use some rich uncle or a wealthy friend to help you out. But experience shows how unlikely that is. He is much more likely to meet your needs through the ravens of the earth that fly to your need when you least expect them. — Ray Pritchard

Raven and the First Men —Bill Reid, qadasgu qligawaay clan (Haida Origins Story)
 Haida stories tell of how the first people emerged from a gigantic clamshell on the beach of Rose Spit. They got out with the help of Raven, the most powerful creature from myth time. Raven was wandering on the beach, when he heard some noise coming from a clamshell. He looked more closely and saw that it was full of little human creatures. They clearly looked terrified by Raven and the great big world outside the shell.

“So the Raven leaned his great head close to the shell, and with the smooth trickster’s tongue, that had got him out of so many misadventures, in his troubled and troublesome existence, he coaxed and cajoled and coerced the little creatures to come out and play in his wonderful, shiny, new world.” 


Fable: Fox and Raven
by Phaedrus
Retold by Rohini Chowdhury

Once, the Raven saw a piece of cheese in a window, and grabbing it in his beak, flew off quickly to a nearby tree, there to savour it and eat it in peace.

Now the Fox, who was passing by, was very fond of cheese, and when she saw the cheese in the Raven’s beak, she determined to have it for herself. Going up to the foot of the tree, she called up to the Raven, ‘Oh my dear friend, how wonderful you look today! You are the handsomest bird I have ever seen. Oh the shine of your feathers, the regal grace with which you hold you hold your head! Your voice must be as beautiful as you! If only I could hear you sing…’ and the Fox sighed, as though with longing.

The Raven was deeply flattered. No one had called him handsome before, or wanted to hear him sing! Surely he could please this kind Fox and sing a little song for her! Taking a deep breathe, he opened his beak…and let fall the piece of cheese. The first caw was not even out of his throat when the Fox had snapped up the piece of cheese and run off through the woods with it!

Mon, Nov 16 Gratitude Reflection

Consider the earth. Give thanks for the ground beneath your feet. The glacier-driven cliffs and outcroppings, twisted into waterfalls and ledges, that shape our landscape. Imagine the rich soil that yields summer and autumn harvests. The fierce and ancient mountains, upthrust and worn low, that frame our valley.

            Stone. Soil. Rock. Dirt. May we appreciate the holy ground on which we stand, reside, play, work and learn. May we pause to recognize that she is more than mere rock, but an interconnected part of creation. She holds us up. Gives us a home. Groans, and continues to live. — Rev Gail

… you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
    and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
    you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
    the roaring of their waves,
    the tumult of the peoples.

—    Psalm 65


Fill the earth with your songs of gratitude.
— Charles Spurgeon

There are three requisites to the proper enjoyment of earthly blessings: a thankful reflection, on the goodness of the giver; a deep sense of our own unworthiness; and a recollection of the uncertainty of our long possessing them. The first will make us grateful; the second, humble; and the third, moderate. – Hannah More

Reflections on covenants made with love, themes from 1 Corinthians 13.

This week we celebrate the renewal of Ray & Arden’s Wedding Vows during the year of their 60th anniversary: such vows are bound as a covenant made in the sight and presence of holy love (agape).


This is our great covenant: To dwell together in peace,
To seek the truth in love, And to help one another.  
— James Vila Blake

Link to scripture, focusing on verses 4-8a and 13. For prior reflections on agape (holy love) contrasted with other forms of love, visit this post.

Questions to consider:

  • What vows, oaths, pledges and promises have you made to an individual, entity or organization?
  • Which covenants and promises have included a promise of love?
  • What promises were made to you in return? Did those reciprocal vows or promises also include love?
  • What practices support your ability to keep your promise?
  • What symbols signify those promises? Do you wear or carry them on your person?
  • What is the difference between a covenant and a contract?

Are you fleeing from Love because of a single humiliation?What do you know of Love except the name?
… Since Love is loyal, it purchases one who is loyal:
it has no interest in a disloyal companion.
The human being resembles a tree; its root is a covenant with God:
that root must be cherished with all one’s might.
A weak covenant is a rotten root, without grace or fruit.
Though the boughs and leaves of the date palm are green,
greenness brings no benefit if the root is corrupt.
If a branch is without green leaves, yet has a good root,
a hundred leaves will put forth their hands in the end.
— Rumi

Appalachian Elegy (Section 6)— bell hooks

listen little sister / angels make their hope here
in these hills / follow me
I will guide you / careful now / no trespass
I will guide you / word for word / mouth for mouth
all the holy ones / embracing us
all our kin / making home here
renegade marooned / lawless fugitives / grace these mountains
we have earth to bind us
the covenant / between us / can never be broken
vows to live and let live

On Covenants

To every people the land is given on condition. Perceived or not, there is a Covenant, beyond the constitution, beyond sovereign guarantee, beyond the nation’s sweetest dreams of itself. — Leonard Cohen

When you look in the dictionary for the most important word, do you know what it is? It could be remember. Because all of you have made covenants — you know what to do and you know how to do it — our greatest need is to remember. — Spencer W. Kimball

Mother Earth needs us to keep our covenant. We will do this in courts, we will do this on our radio station, and we will commit to our descendants to work hard to protect this land and water for them. Whether you have feet, wings, fins, or roots, we are all in it together. — Winona LaDuke

The word ‘slavery’ and ‘right’ are contradictory, they cancel each other out. Whether as between one man and another, or between one man and a whole people, it would always be absurd to say: “I hereby make a covenant with you which is wholly at your expense and wholly to my advantage; I will respect it so long as I please and you shall respect it as long as I wish. — Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Peace does not rest in the charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of all people. So let us not rest all our hopes on parchment and on paper, let us strive to build peace, a desire for peace, a willingness to work for peace in the hearts and minds of all of our people. I believe that we can. I believe the problems of human destiny are not beyond the reach of human beings. — John F. Kennedy

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the Ark of the Covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment. — Edmund Morgan

The best way to strengthen a home, current or future, is to keep covenants.  — Linda K. Burton

Sociologists argue that in contemporary Western society the marketplace has become so dominant that the consumer model increasingly characterizes most relationships that historically were covenantal, including marriage. Today we stay connected to people only as long as they are meeting our particular needs at an acceptable cost to us. When we cease to make a profit – that is, when the relationship appears to require more love and affirmation from us than we are getting back – then we “cut our losses” and drop the relationship. This has also been called “commodification,” a process by which social relationships are reduced to economic exchange relationships, and so the very idea of “covenant” is disappearing in our culture. ― Timothy Keller

Dalai Lama’s Commentary

With a wish to free all beings
I shall always go for refuge
to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha
until I reach full enlightenment.

Enthused by wisdom and compassion,
today in the Buddha’s presence
I generate the Mind for Full Awakening
for the benefit of all sentient beings.

As long as space endures,
as long as sentient being remain,
until then, may I too remain
and dispel the miseries of the world.

In conclusion, those who like myself, consider themselves to be followers of Buddha, should practice as much as we can.

To followers of other religious traditions, I would like to say, “Please practice your own religion seriously and sincerely.”

And to non-believers, I request you to try to be warm-hearted. I ask this of you because these mental attitudes actually bring us happiness. As I have mentioned before, taking care of others actually benefits you. — 14th Dalai Lama

Holy Covenants: Jewish & Christian Commentary

In legal language, a covenant generally denotes an agreement between two or more parties. But in a religious context, a covenant is much more significant. It is a sacred promise with God. [God] fixes the terms. — Russell M. Nelson

God doesn’t want us to have rigid rituals with Him. In the new covenant, He is more interested in having a relationship with us. — Joseph Prince

The Israelites frequently forsook God, and he as frequently forsook them. But when they repented and returned to him, he remembered his covenant and delivered them from their distresses. — Adoniram Judson

A covenant made with God should be regarded not as restrictive but as protective. — Russell M. Nelson

The work of man is to respond to the Covenant by obeying the commandments of the Torah, those commandments that can be obeyed here and now. — David Novak

Then God establishes his Covenant with Noah, and with his sons, “and with every living creature.” Many recall the Covenant with Noah, but forget the Covenant with all other living Beings. However, God does not forget it. He repeats the terms “all flesh” and “every living creature” a number of times, to make sure we get the point. No one can make a Covenant with a stone: for a Covenant to exist, there must. be a minimum of two live and responsible parties to it. Therefore the Animals are not senseless matter, not mere chunks of meat. No; they have souls, or God could not have made a Covenant with them. The human Words of God affirm this: “But ask now the beasts,” says Job 12, “and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee … and the fishes of the sea shall declare unto thee.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Year of the Flood

When God makes a covenant with us, God says: ‘I will love you with an everlasting love. I will be faithful to you, even when you run away from me, reject me, or betray me.’ In our society we don’t speak much about covenants; we speak about contracts. When we make a contract with a person, we say: ‘I will fulfill my part as long as you fulfill yours. When you don’t live up to your promises, I no longer have to live up to mine.’ Contracts are often broken because the partners are unwilling or unable to be faithful to their terms. But God didn’t make a contract with us; God made a covenant with us, and God wants our relationships with one another to reflect that covenant. That’s why marriage, friendship, life in community are all ways to give visibility to God’s faithfulness in our lives together.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

Things that become important to economies become ritualized and become deified. Because I’m Jewish, I always thought it was interesting that in Judaism, salt seals a bargain, particularly the covenant with God. Some people, when they bless bread, they dip it in salt. Same thing exists in Islam. — Mark Kurlansky

Marriage has a unique place because it speaks of an absolute faithfulness, a covenant between radically different persons, male and female; and so it echoes the absolute covenant of God with his chosen, a covenant between radically different partners. — Rowan Williams

Settle this in your heart: Whether I am up or down, the Lord Jesus is the same. Whether I sing or sigh, the promise is true and the Promiser is faithful. Whether I stand on the summit or am hidden in the vale the covenant stands fast and everlasting love abides. — Charles Spurgeon


Reflections on prodigal love: themes from parable in Luke 15

When is love prodigal? When is it wasteful and exuberant to offer compassion and welcome though it may not be merited or appreciated? Some early theologians so feared this parable of prodigal love, that they decided it shouldn’t be told or taught … it offered a model that overturned good sense and economical, societal order. When have you been prodigal and excessive in your love? And would you do it again? When have you received such impractical generosity of heart? — Rev Gail

Song: Prodigal by Sidewalk Prophets

The Prodigal Son
(excerpt) Spencer Reece
For a decade I did not speak to my parents.
Are you listening to me? I will not bore you with details.
Instead, I will tell you something new. Listen to me.
I was angry. But the reasons no longer interest me.
I take the liberty of assuming you approve of forgiveness
… we discuss blessings, absolutions, consecrations—our work of the soul.
… Mother and father, forgive me my absence.
I will always be moving quietly toward you.

Blessing that Waits to Come to Your Aid — Jan Richardson
 When I have become / so reliant on myself
that I cannot see / the need that gnaws / so deep / in my soul,
open my eyes, open my heart, open my mouth
to cry out / for the help
that you do not ration, the deliverance
that you delight to offer / in glad and / generous measure.

Poem (excerpt) — Rumi
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
… You must ask for what you really want.
Don’t go back to sleep.
People are going back and forth across the doorsill
where the two worlds touch.
The door is round and open.
Don’t go back to sleep.

Prodigal Love: Extravagant Welcome & Unearned Grace

We’re all being loved in spite of ourselves. — Richard Rohr

I now see that the hands that forgive, console, heal, and offer a festive meal must become my own.  ― Henri Nouwen, Return of the Prodigal Son

The pattern of the prodigal is: rebellion, ruin, repentance, reconciliation, restoration. — Edwin Louis Cole

We are so afraid of letting people off the hook. We are so resentful of unearned love. Unless we happen to be the ones toward whom the father is running, with his arms wide open and tears wetting his beard. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The story of the Prodigal Son is a story about hearts: selfish hearts and generous hearts, closed hearts and open hearts, cold hearts and warm hearts, broken hearts and joyful hearts, unrepentant hearts and repentant hearts, unforgiving hearts and forgiving hearts, resentful hearts and grateful hearts. It reveals so much about the vagaries of the human heart. When all is said and done it is the heart that matters. … The heart is what I am deep down. It is the real me. Darkness of heart is the blackest night of all. Emptiness of heart is the greatest poverty of all. A heavy heart is the most wearisome burden of all. A broken heart is the deepest wound of all. But the parable reveals how steadfast is the heart of God. — Flor McCarthy

The eyes of mercy are quicker than the eyes of repentance. Even the eyes of our faith are dim compared with the eye of God’s love. … It means much love truly felt; for God never gives an expression of love without feeling it in His infinite heart. — Charles Spurgeon

The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” ― Henri Nouwen

Prodigal Child

… the prodigal figure is at work in us when we go racing through the candy store of life, unaware of the price of the going and comingor the cost. We are takers who gather everything we can to ourselves, or squander it or do nothing, and then discover that life demands back everything it gives in ways we never dreamed. — Joan Chittister

In relation to my practice, I am the prodigal son when I live in forgetfulness and self-centeredness. When I hurry … because I am attached to my agenda, I waste the precious gift of life in the present moment. When I come back to my breath, I seek the peace of mindfulness … — Mark LeMay, from Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

And, like the prodigal son, he had returned broken in body and also in mind to the house where he had been born … ― Catherine Cookson

The true adventurer goes forth aimless and uncalculating to meet and greet unknown fate. A fine example was the Prodigal Son — when he started back home. ― O. Henry, The Green Door

The back door beckons to a prodigal son. ― Michael Davidow

It was his home now. But it could not be his home till he had gone from it and returned to it. ― G.K. Chesterton

… and it was the son’s new revelation of his poverty of heart that propelled him back into his Father’s arms. ― Tommy Tenney

But at least you and I have this in common: I know what it’s like to hunger.  To hunger for love, for depth, for passion, for joy. And I know what it’s like to imagine an exotic Elsewhere, a more perfect nourishment miles away from my Father’s all-too-familiar table. I know what it’s like to “come to myself” in the broken, impoverished places of my own foolish fashioning, and to long for the warmth and sustenance of a home. — Debie Thomas

Once a person learns to read the signs of love and thus to believe it, love leads him into the open field wherein he himself can love. If the prodigal son had not believed that the father’s love was already waiting for him, he would not have been able to make the journey home – even if his father’s love welcomes him in a way he never would have dreamed of. ― Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible

So when I reject my identity as beloved child of God and turn to my own plans of self-satisfaction, or I despair that I haven’t managed to be a good enough person, I again see our divine Parent running toward me uninterested in what I’ve done or not done, who covers me in divine love and I melt into something new like having again been moved from death to life and I reconcile aspects of myself and I reconcile to others around me. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Offering Exuberant Love: Prodigal Parent

Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope. — John Ciardi

But the real Prodigal in this story is your Father, is he not?  Over-the-top, undignified, and hair-raising in his love? —  Debie Thomas

You never depart from us, but yet, only with difficulties do we return to You. ― Saint Augustine, Confessions

This father is not content to have one child without the other; he advocates for and seeks out both. — Barbara Brown Taylor

When the prodigal son returned … The father accepts his son with loving-kindness and rejoices at his return. He greets the prodigal son warmly and rejoices at his return. The father’s response is a model for how I can treat myself when I stray from the path of mindfulness … I try not to cling to or repress my shame and anger. I notice these feelings and return to my breath. My feelings cannot be removed with aggression. I recognize them as part of the fold, and each time I return to the path, I say to myself (paraphrasing Thay), “I have arrived; welcome home.” — Mark LeMay, Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

… let us remember that God is the prodigal Father, who refuses to give us the love we deserve, but instead who gives the love we need.  … who waits patiently for His lost children to return. When He sees us from a long way off, He runs to welcome us. … feels our absence … steps outside to be with us, and waits patiently for our response. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The father wants not only his young person back, but his elder son as well … The father … wants both to participate in his joy … Thus the father’s unreserved, unlimited love is offered wholly and equally. He does not compare the two sons. He expresses complete love according to their individual Journeys. — Henri Nouwen

… your relationship to God is simply not defined by your really bad decisions or your squandering of resources.  But also your relationship to God is not determined by your virtue. It is not determined by being nice, or being good … Your relationship to God is simply determined by the wastefully extravagant love of God.  A God who takes no account of risk but runs toward you no matter what saying all that is mine is yours. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

Older Child: The One Who Stayed Home, Yet Was Also Lost

… But here’s your vindication: the power in this story is yours … Your Father stands in the doorway, awaiting your company. You get to write his ending. What will you do, as the music grows sweeter? What will we choose, you and I? — Debie Thomas

There are many elder sons and elder daughters who are lost while still at home.― Henri Nouwen

The fatted calf, the best Scotch, the hoedown could all have been his too, any time he asked for them except that he never thought to ask for them because he was too busy trying cheerlessly and religiously to earn them. ― Frederick Buechner

The older son squandered his freedom by not thinking he had any. He didn’t believe that all that was the Father’s was his. He squandered the gifts of the Father by living a life of mirthless duty. And coming home from the field he hears the party underway and resents such a lavish show of love thinking it a limited resource. He was being a complete ass and yet again, the Father comes to him reminding him of the great love he has for his child. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

The third character, the elder son, remained faithful to his father while his younger brother squandered his inheritance. … The story does not explore the elder son’s feelings, aside from his anger. I can easily imagine him also feeling resentful, wounded, and suspicious. These feelings are familiar, for I have held them toward others and towards myself … I wake up to the suffering caused when I stray from mindfulness, I feel critical and suspicious of myself … I sometimes feel the sting of shame … I feel both the guilt of the prodigal son, and the angry suspicion of the elder brother toward myself … Each time I catch myself living in forgetfulness and feel the prodigal son and his brother in my heart, I try to remember the father. — Mark LeMay, Mindfulness Bell published by Plum Village (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Sangha)

Reflections on the fierce & protective love of a hen vs the predatory nature of a fox … choosing the unexpected, challenging expectations along the Way … themes from Luke 13

Her love of her children definitely resembles my love of mine. – Alice Walker

Hen-Love

It is one of those moments that will be engraved on my brain forever. For I really saw her. She was small and gray, flecked with black; so were her chicks. She had a healthy red comb and quick, light-brown eyes. She was that proud, chunky chicken shape that makes one feel always that chickens, and hens especially, have personality and will. Her steps were neat and quick and authoritative; and though she never touched her chicks, it was obvious she was shepherding them along. She clucked impatiently when, our feet falling ever nearer, one of them, especially self-absorbed and perhaps hard-headed, ceased to respond.
— Alice Walker


Once you know how to come home to yourself, then you can open your home to other people, because you have something to offer. The other person has to do exactly the same thing if they are to have something to offer you.
— Thich Nhat Hanh


I have sharpened my knives, I have
Put on the heavy apron.

Maybe you think life is chicken soup, served
In blue willow-pattern bowls.

I have put on my boots and opened
The kitchen door and stepped out

Into the sunshine. I have crossed the lawn.
I have entered
The hen house.

— Mary Oliver, Farm Country


The Lifted Up One, the One who sits high and walks low, taught that the thoroughfare to God is full of bypaths and back roads.
The way up is down.
The way in is out.
The way first is last.
The way of success is service.
The way of attainment is relinquishment.
The way of strength is weakness.
The way of security is vulnberability.
The way of protection is forgiveness (even seventy times seven).
The way of life is the way of death — death to self, society, family.
Know your strengths. Why?
Because that’s the only way you can Lay Them Down.
God’s power is made perfect … where? In our weakness.
Want to get the most? Go to where the least is.
Want to be free? Give complete control to God.
Want to become great? Become least.
Want to discover yourself? Forget yourself.
Want honor? “Honor yourself with humility.”
Want to “get even” with enemies? Bless and love them.
— Leonard Sweet, Excerpt from Jesus Drives Me Crazy

On Hens

… drooping their wings for some to creep under, and receiving with joyous and affectionate clucks others that mount upon their backs or run up to them from every direction; and though they flee from dogs and snakes if they are frightened only for themselves, if their fright is for their children, they stand their ground and fight it out beyond their strength.” — Plutarch, 1st Century AD

… under the shadow of their wings, and with this covering they put up such a very fierce defense – striking fear into their opponent in the midst of a frightful clamor, using both wings and beak – they would rather die for their chicks than seek safety in flight.” — Ulisse Aldrovandi

The forest fire had been brought under control, and the group of firefighters were working back through the devastation making sure all the hot spots had been extinguished. As they marched across the blackened landscape between the wisps of smoke still rising from the smoldering remains, a large lump on the trail caught a firefighter’s eye. … As he got closer he noticed it was the charred remains of a large bird, that had burned nearly half way through. Since birds can so easily fly away from the approaching flames, the firefighter wondered what must have been wrong with this bird that it could not escape. Had it been sick or injured? … Arriving at the carcass, he decided to kick it off the trail with his boot. As soon as he did, however, he was startled half to death by a flurry of activity around his feet. Four little birds flailed in the dust and ash then scurried away down the hillside … The bulk of the mother’s body had covered them from the searing flames. Though the heat was enough to consume her, it allowed her babies to find safety underneath. In the face of the rising flames, she had stayed with her young. Her dead carcass and her fleeing chicks told the story well enough–she gave the ultimate sacrifice to save her young. — Jacqueline, DeepRoots blogger

A hen is to her little chicks, next, a cover of safety. There is a hawk in the sky; the mother bird can see it, though the chickens cannot; she gives her peculiar cluck of warn-ing, and quickly they come and hide beneath her wings. The hawk will not hurt them now; beneath her wings they are secure … for, in the next place, the hen is to her chicks the source of comfort. It is a cold night, and they would be frozen if they remained outside; but she calls them in, and when they are under her wings, they derive warmth from their mother’s breast. It is a wonder, the care of a hen for her little ones; she will sit so carefully, and keep her wings so widely spread, that they may all be housed. What a cabin, what a palace, it is for the young chicks to get there under the mother’s wings! The snow may fall, or the rain may come pelting down, but the wings of the hen protect the chicks; and you, dear friend, if you come to Christ, shall not only have safety, but comfort. I speak what I have experienced. … The hen is also to her chicks, the cherisher of growth. They would not develop if they were not taken care of; in their weakness they need to be cherished, that they may come to the fullness of their perfec-tion. — Charles Spurgeon

Why A Hen Instead of a Fox?

A hen is what Jesus chooses, which – if you think about it – is pretty typical of him. He is always turning things upside down, so that children and peasants wind up on top while kings and scholars land on the bottom. He is always wrecking our expectations of how things should turn out by giving prizes to losers and paying the last first. So of course he chooses a chicken, which is about as far from a fox as you can get. That way the options become very clear: you can live by licking your chops or you can die protecting the chicks. The image of God as hen is finally one that lays bare God’s vulnerability. When you are the mother hen, all you can do is open your wings wide and gather as many as you can. … Jesus won’t be king of the jungle in this or any other story. What he will be is a mother hen who stands between the chicks and those who mean to do them harm. She has no fangs, no claws, no rippling muscles. All she has is her willingness to shield her babies with her own body. If the fox wants them, he will have to kill her first … The fox slides up on her one night in the yard while all the babies are asleep. When her cry wakens them, they scatter. She dies the next day where both foxes and chickens can see her – wings spread, breast exposed – without a single chick beneath her feathers. It breaks her heart, but it does not change a thing. If you mean what you say, then this is how you stand. Which he does, as it turns out. — Barbara Brown Taylor

The Fox

… in Hebrew. Lions and foxes can be contrasted with each other to represent the difference between great men and inferior men. The great men are called “lions,” and the lesser men are called “foxes.” The epithet “fox” is sometimes applied to Torah scholars: “There are lions before you, and you ask foxes?”[4] In other words, “Why do you ask the opinion of foxes, that is, my opinion, when there are distinguished scholars present?” … Consider the following list of possibilities for “fox” in its negative sense: weakling, small-fry, usurper, poser, clown, insignificant person, cream puff, nobody, weasel, jackass, tin soldier, peon, hick, pompous pretender, jerk, upstart … In context, and referring to a local ruler, “fox” was a humiliating “slap in the face.”  … Jesus was direct. Antipas was a שׁוּעָל בֶּן שׁוּעָל (shū‘āl ben shū‘āl, “a fox, the son of a fox”), a small-fry.— Randall Buth, Jerusalem Perspective

Hen Stories

The great Persian poet Rumi had an extraordinary teacher named Shams. Even as a child Shams seemed different. His own parents struggled with whether to send him to a monastery or the village of fools. They did not know what to do with him. When he had grown he told them the story of the duck’s egg that was found by the hen and hatched. The hen raised the duckling with her other chicks. One day they walked to a lake. The duck went right in the water, Shams said to his parents, “Now, father and mother, I have found my place. I have learned to swim in the ocean, even if you must remain on the shore.” — Jack KornfieldVariation on Fox and Hen in Aesop’s Fables — Milo Winter 

One bright evening as the sun was sinking on a glorious world a wise old Cock flew into a tree to roost. Before he composed himself to rest, he flapped his wings three times and crowed loudly. But just as he was about to put his head under his wing, his beady eyes caught a flash of red and a glimpse of a long pointed nose, and there just below him stood Master Fox.

“Have you heard the wonderful news?” cried the Fox in a very joyful and excited manner.

“What news?” asked the Cock very calmly. But he had a queer, fluttery feeling inside him, for, you know, he was very much afraid of the Fox.

“Your family and mine and all other animals have agreed to forget their differences and live in peace and friendship from now on forever. Just think of it! I simply cannot wait to embrace you! Do come down, dear friend, and let us celebrate the joyful event.”

“How grand!” said the Cock. “I certainly am delighted at the news.” But he spoke in an absent way, and stretching up on tiptoes, seemed to be looking at something afar off.

“What is it you see?” asked the Fox a little anxiously.

“Why, it looks to me like a couple of Dogs coming this way. They must have heard the good news and—”

But the Fox did not wait to hear more. Off he started on a run.

“Wait,” cried the Cock. “Why do you run? The Dogs are friends of yours now!”

“Yes,” answered the Fox. “But they might not have heard the news. Besides, I have a very important errand that I had almost forgotten about.”

The Cock smiled as he buried his head in his feathers and went to sleep, for he had succeeded in outwitting a very crafty enemy.

The Hen is a Symbol of Motherhood for Reasons We May Have Forgotten, So Let Us Recall— Dr. Karen Davis
In our day, the hen has been degraded to an “egg machine.” In previous eras, she embodied the essence of motherhood. In the first century AD, the Roman historian Plutarch praised the many ways in which mother hens cherish and protect their chicks, “drooping their wings for some to creep under, and receiving with joyous and affectionate clucks others that mount upon their backs or run up to them from every direction; and though they flee from dogs and snakes if they are frightened only for themselves, if their fright is for their children, they stand their ground and fight it out beyond their strength.”
The Renaissance writer Ulisse Aldrovandi described how, at the first sign of a predator, mother hens will immediately gather their chicks “under the shadow of their wings, and with this covering they put up such a very fierce defense – striking fear into their opponent in the midst of a frightful clamor, using both wings and beak – they would rather die for their chicks than seek safety in flight.” Similarly, in collecting food, the mother hen allows her chicks to eat their fill before satisfying her own hunger. Thus, he said, mother hens present, in every way, “a noble example of love for their offspring.” … I saw this love in action, when a hen named Eva jumped our sanctuary fence on a spring day and disappeared, only to return three weeks later in June with eight fluffy chicks. Watching Eva with her tiny brood close behind her was like watching a family of wild birds whose dark and golden feathers blended perfectly with the woods and foliage they melted in and out of during the day. Periodically, Eva would squat down with her feathers puffed out, and her peeping chicks would all run under her wings for comfort and warmth. A few minutes later the family was on the move again … One day, a large dog wandered in front of the magnolia tree where Eva and her chicks were foraging. With her wings outspread and curved menacingly toward the dog, she rushed at him over and over, cackling loudly, all the while continuing to push her chicks behind herself with her wings. The dog stood stock still before the excited mother hen and soon ambled away, but Eva maintained her aggressive posture, her sharp, repetitive cackles and attentive lookout for several minutes after he was gone … Sitting on her nest, a mother hen carefully turns each of her eggs as often as thirty times a day, using her body, her feet, and her beak to move each egg precisely in order to maintain the proper temperature, moisture, ventilation, humidity, and position of the egg during the 3-week incubation period. Embryonic chicks respond to soothing sounds from the mother hen and to warning cries from the rooster. Two or three days before the chicks are ready to hatch, they start peeping to notify their mother and siblings that they are ready to emerge from their shells, and to draw her attention to any distress they’re experiencing such as cold or abnormal positioning … A communication network is established among the baby birds and between them and their mother, who must stay calm while all the peeping, sawing, and breaking of eggs goes on underneath her as she meanwhile picks off tiny pieces of shell that may be sticking to her chicks and slays any ants that may dart in to scavenge. During all this time, as Page Smith and Charles Daniel describe in The Chicken Book, “The chorus of peeps goes on virtually uninterrupted, the unborn chicks peeping away, the newborn ones singing their less muffled song.” … During the first four to eight weeks or so, the chicks stay close to their mother, gathering beneath her wings every night at dusk. Eventually, she flies up to her perch or a tree branch, indicating her sense that they, and she, are ready for independence … Let us with equal justice perceive chickens with envisioned eyes that pierce the veil of these birds’ “mechanization” and apprehend the truth of who they are. In The Chicken Book, Page Smith and Charles Daniel remind us, most poignantly: “As each chick emerges from its shell in the dark cave of feathers underneath its mother, it lies for a time like any newborn creature, exhausted, naked, and extremely vulnerable. And as the mother may be taken as the epitome of motherhood, so the newborn chick may be taken as an archetypal representative of babies of all species, human and animal alike, just brought into the world.” … This is What Wings Are For.

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