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!

Meditations on tangible love during Advent 4: holy, messy, stubborn love that moves among us here on earth.

I believe God loves the world through us—through you and me. — Mother Teresa

The three grand essentials of happiness are: Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.― George Washington Burnap

The great struggle of … life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. ― Rachel Held Evans

The roots of a lasting relationship are mindfulness, deep listening and loving speech, and a strong community to support you. — Thich Nhat Hanh

You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
― William W. Purkey

Prayer
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
— St. Teresa of Ávila
 

Questions to consider:

  • When did you have an experience of holy, stubborn love this week?
  • When has love insisted on showing up, despite whatever should have turned it away, in your life?
  • What or who has been transformed by love, in your life?
  • When have you served as tangible love in someone else’s life?
  • What is your ‘language’ of love? How do you express love to others? Read an article on this concept.
  • In what ways are you willing to receive or accept love? When and how is it hard to allow yourself to be loved?
  • What songs make your playlist as great love songs? Are they romantic or do they describe a different kind of love?

HOLY, STUBBORN LOVE: Incarnate, Embodied, Among-Us

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ― Rumi

Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love. ― Mahatma Gandhi

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Every one of us is trying to find our true home. Some of us are still searching. Our true home is inside, but it’s also in our loved ones around us. When you’re in a loving relationship, you and the other person can be a true home for each other. ― Thich Nhat Hanh

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close. ― Pablo Neruda

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. ― Elie Wiesel

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always. ― Mahatma Gandhi

I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough … ― Nicholas Sparks

Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love. — Mother Teresa

You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not. ― Jodi Picoult

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. ― Louise Erdrich

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Spiritual Commentary on Love

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. ― Dalai Lama

I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. ― Anne Lamott

Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. ― Richard Rohr 

Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love. ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

What I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he identified the poor as blessed and the rich as needy…and then he went and ministered to them both. This, I think, is the difference between charity and justice. Justice means moving beyond the dichotomy between those who need and those who supply and confronting the frightening and beautiful reality that we desperately need one another. ― Rachel Held Evans

God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift. No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement. We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time. The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority. The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.
― Nadia Bolz-Weber

When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn breaking within you. Where before there was anonymity, now there is intimacy; where before there was fear, now there is courage; where before in your life there was awkwardness, now there is a rhythm of grace and gracefulness; where before you used to be jagged, now you are elegant and in rhythm with your self. When love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning. ― John O’Donohue

Reflections on extended family: inspired by UKAMA Sunday and the Shona word for interconnectedness.

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. – Richard Bach

Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones that would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what. — anonymous

Shona concept of Ukama (Zimbabwe). This is the name of the partnership between faith communities in NH and Zimbabwe. Jackson Community Church is partnered with the Chikanga Church in the city of Mutare, Zimbabwe. Excerpt “… life is an interconnected whole, the ultimate wellbeing of the individual can hardly be disentangled from the well-being of others. It is through kinship or relatedness that the individual’s actions affect others positively or negatively at present as well as in the future.”

Questions to consider:

  • What is your image of God? Often our primal understanding of love and power is shaped by our earliest primary family relationships. How is your understanding of God like the people of your family of origin or adoption?
  • Who are the people you have ‘chosen’ as your extended family? What bonds tie you together?

Poem — Mary Oliver 
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. – Jane Howard

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. – Desmond Tutu

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there. – Barbara Bush

Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter. – Brad Henry


The family – that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to. – Dodie Smith

When you grow up in an extended family, or in a stable neighborhood with two or three generations of families who live there, you feel seen. Not just the good things you’ve done, the stuff you put on your resume. You know they’ve seen you in your dark times, when you’ve messed up – but they’re still there. — Dean Ornish

This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good. – Stitch (Disney character)

Blended families: woven together by choice, strengthened together by love, tested by everything, and each uniquely ours. — anonymous

The creation of a more peaceful and happier society has to begin from the level of the individual, and from there it can expand to one’s family, to one’s neighborhood, to one’s community and so on. — Dalai Lama

Obviously, you would give your life for your children, or give them the last biscuit on the plate. But to me, the trick in life is to take that sense of generosity between kin, make it apply to the extended family and to your neighbour, your village and beyond. — Tom Stoppard

Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love. ― Thich Nhat Hanh

A child is fortunate who feels witnessed as a person, outside relationships with parents, by another adult. ― Louise Erdrich

Global health issues remind us – perhaps more than any other issue – that we are all children of the same extended family. — Kathleen Sebelius

You inherited a piece of everyone in your family. Insult them, insult yourself … Family makes you who you are and aren’t. – Marcelina Hardy

The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you. – Kendall Hailey

He that raises a large family stands a broader mark for sorrow; but then he stands a broader mark for pleasure too. – Benjamin Franklin

A family is a place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living.  – Charles Swindon

To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.  – Pope John Paul II

We must take care of our families wherever we find them. – Elizabeth Gilbert

When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching — they are your family. – Jim Butcher

It didn’t matter how big our house was; it mattered that there was love in it. – Peter Buffett

Holy Thoughts on Families Formed by Love and Choice

God resorts to working through us for others and upon us through others. Those are some weirdly restorative, disconcerting shenanigans to be caught up in: God forcing God’s people to see themselves as God sees them, to do stuff they know they are incapable of doing, so that God might make use of them, and make them to be both humble recipients and generous givers of grace, so that they may be part of God’s big project on earth, so that they themselves might find unexpected joy through surprising situations. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change. ― Thich Nhat Hanh
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