Listen to the Mockingbird

Today’s post is by Rose Mary Dougherty

Recently, I have been struck by the song of the mockingbird. I have one (the same one every day, I think) that sits in a tree in my backyard, picking up the song of other birds and singing all evening long. I noticed that even when my neighbor is playing classical music, the bird seems to pick up that melody. One evening at Shalem’s summer retreat as we sat with windows open, listening to evening sounds, I heard another mockingbird. Later, in our sharing, a woman who had also heard the bird, told the story of a tenor singing “The Wayfarer,” composed by Gustav Mahler, in an amphitheater in her hometown. Midway through his performance, a nearby mockingbird joined him and stayed with him until the end. As the performance ended, the tenor turned first to the mockingbird and applauded it, then turned to the audience and bowed.

For some reason the mockingbird speaks to me of prayer and of love. There was a time when I thought I knew how to pray and how to love. I was good at sitting quietly and at saying the prayers I had learned as a child. I was good at taking care of people. But then I saw a quote from Thomas Merton that read, “Prayer and love are learned when prayer has become impossible and the heart has turned to stone.” I also read John of the Cross who said something similar — that there comes a time when God needs to divest us of that which we have come most to depend upon (in my case my ways of praying and loving) so that God can teach us prayer and love, can teach us who we really are. I was sure Thomas Merton and John of the Cross must be mistaken. What they say may be true for some people, but when you have a good thing going, why would God take it from you?

Life has changed for me since my initial reaction to the words of Thomas Merton and John of the Cross. I no longer feel that I know how to pray. I know even less about it when I am supposed to be telling others about it or leading them in prayer. I also notice that I feel very little compassion and that my normal ways of caring for people just aren’t available to me. Truly it seems that prayer as I have known it has become impossible and my heart has turned to stone.

For some reason I am not discouraged about this. In fact I am full of hope. It seems that something good is happening that is not in my control. The impossibility of my making prayer happen and the difficulty of caring for others as I would want to seem to be ridding me of the many ways I have tried to secure myself with God and others and ridding me also of the image of myself as a praying, caring person. Yet something more authentic is being given. Sometimes I notice that prayer is happening when I haven’t set out to be praying. At other times I feel a nudge to say something to a person, or let what I would normally say go unsaid. I don’t feel that I have to fix everyone. I am learning to trust God’s prayer in me and God’s care for the world through me.

Perhaps my heart is becoming a bit like the mockingbird, listening attentively to God’s prayer in me and letting it be my own, hearing the song of God’s love and echoing it to the world.

This reflection first appeared in the Shalem News, Fall 1995.

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November 11, 2017 by Rose Mary Dougherty 4 Comments
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Dana Greene
Dana Greene
6 years ago

Dear Rosemary, What a beautiful post–so authentic, wise. Thank you. Dana Greene

Carole Crumley
Carole Crumley
6 years ago

What a beautiful reflection. Written in 1995, it stands the test of time. Wise and deep, loving and hopeful. Thank you, Rose Mary!

6 years ago

Thank you for what I needed to hear today. I do not doubt that good happens even if I don’t feel it. Keeps from the shoulds!

Don MacDougall
Don MacDougall
6 years ago

Thank you Rose Mary. Just what I need to hear right now. It took almost 25 years to get through to me today but worth the journey. Don MacDougall


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