Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,
We have arrived at the celebration of Easter and resurrection. What Holy Week teaches me is that surrender leads to the fullness of life, yielding our own agendas brings us to new possibilities we couldn’t have dreamed of for ourselves.
The story of St. Kevin and the Blackbird is perhaps one of my favorites of all the Celtic saints. He was a 6th century monk and Abbott, and was soul friend to many, including Ciaran of Clomacnoise. After he was ordained, he retreated to a place of solitude, most likely near the Upper Lake at Glendalough where there is a place called “St. Kevin’s bed.”
He lived there as a hermit for seven years, sleeping on stone and eating very simply, only nuts, herbs, and water. In the writings of his Life, it is said that “the branches and leaves of the trees sometimes sang sweet songs to him, and heavenly music alleviated the severity of his life.” Kevin is known for his intimacy with nature and animals. It is said that when he was an infant and young child, a white cow used to come to offer him milk. Later when he founded his community an otter would bring salmon form the lake to eat.
One of the most well-known stories about him goes that he would pray every day in a small hut with arms outstretched. The hut was so small though that one arm reached out the window. One day, a blackbird landed in his palm, and slowly built a nest there. Kevin realized what was happening and knew that he could not pull his hand back with this new life being hatched there. So he spent however many days it took for the eggs to be laid, and the tiny birds to hatch, and for them to ready themselves to fly away.
I love this story because it is such an image of yielding, of surrendering to something that was not in the “plans,” but instead, receiving it as gift. Instead of sitting there in agony trying to figure out how to move the bird, he enters into this moment with great love and hospitality.
How many times in our lives do we reach out our hands for a particular purpose, and something else arrives? Something that may cause discomfort, something we may want to pull away from, but in our wiser moments we know that this is a holy gift we are invited to receive.
Please consider joining us for our Easter season retreat Soul’s Slow Ripening: Celtic Wisdom for Discernment. We begin our journey in a week through the riches of monastic wisdom, especially what we find in the Irish tradition. St. Kevin will be one of our companions, along with Brigid, Patrick, Ita, Gobnait, and more. If you are in a place of listening to your life for what thresholds might be beckoning, this retreat will be a lovely companion on the way.
If you missed my reflection on Holy Saturday: The Space Between, you can read it over at Patheos. I also have a reflection at Patheos for Easter Sunday which kicks off a new 8-week series on Practicing Resurrection.
May the promise of new life and new beginnings be yours!
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
Photo © St Kevin Dancing Monk Icon by Marcy Hall of Rabbit Room Arts