Little Blessings on Our Heads
Half of the time, I am a Director of Religious Education for a Unitarian Universalist congregation in New Hampshire, but I have a second job where I am on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, when I am not in Keene. Last week I left work there late in the afternoon and headed down the stairs that lead to the parking lot. There are three small and unspectacular dogwood trees planted near the base of the staircase, usually the first trees to blossom into life each spring. Now, of course, their branches are bare, and they look like shivering skeletons when wintry wind blows. But late in the afternoon at this time of year and through the winter, these branches and the telephone lines that stretch above them become the daily meeting spot for a flock of hardy little birds. I don't know what they are - perhaps sparrows - but they gather every day, just as the sun is about to set; they gather and they make a joyful noise. Last week for the first time this season I noticed them. I noticed their voices, cutting in over my thoughts, my list making, my planning for dinner; whatever was going through my mind was just subsumed beneath their raucous conversations. I can't imagine the meaning behind their chirrups; I don't know if they were gossiping or trading information on the best backyard birdfeeders or swapping stories about the size of the worm-that-got-away or singing in praise of the sunset. But on that day I stopped - right in the middle of the staircase - I stopped and I closed my eyes and I let the sound of the birds surround me and it felt for all the world like little blessings gently cascading over my head. I don't know how long I stood there; I know several people passed me, anxious to get out of the autumn chill and into their cars, while I listened to this remarkable chorus. I felt happy and peaceful and grateful for their voices, and for the longest time I carried around the feeling of having experienced something blessed.
This is the time of year when I feel, and perhaps you do too, the most removed from the natural world. I do not love the cold and tend to huddle inside with my family more as winter approaches. When I do go out, of course, I am armored against the elements: scarf, hat, gloves and fisherman's sweater. In all the other seasons of the year, I tend to walk outside barefoot, but now the woolen socks have come out of storage and new winter boots insulate my feet. And the natural world seems to have pulled itself away from us, as well. Skeletal trees, fleeing geese, gardens covered by the season's first snow - nature seems to be drawing away from us as we huddle inside our houses and fire up the woodstoves.
This is the time of year, too, when many of us feel pulled into the frenzied cultural current known as the Holiday Season. Malls are enticing shoppers with the 'best sales of the season'. Economists are predicting how much you will spend on i-pods and talking Elmo dolls this year. Calendars are filling up with office parties, benefit concerts, children's recitals and other obligations. What those birds reminded me last week is that the natural world is not so far away as it feels. The dormant tree is not dead, but resting, husbanding its strength and vitality in preparation for its next season of buds and leaves. If I look closely, I will see the tracks of animals criss-crossing my covered garden, still here; still near. And if I stop and listen, I will know that not all the birds have abandoned us. When I stop to listen, I will be rewarded with little blessings on my head.
As Unitarian Universalists, our religious inspiration comes from many sources, including from our own experiences of wonder. I know that we all have had these sacred moments when we felt blessed by, or comforted by, or serenely grateful for the natural world of which we are a part. In the weeks ahead that will bring joy and comfort and hectic schedules and late nights with bows and wrapping paper, what I wish for us all is the opportunity to recognize those moments when the world will reward us with blessings, little blessings on our heads, if we only take the time to accept them.