I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Janelle Harvey’s reflection, The Language of Feathers.
On a cold winter day, after discovering the truth and severity of your daughter’s drug addiction, you might find yourself running into the woods seeking the comfort and presence and help of God in that place of solitude and solace. Desperate tears will freeze on your cheeks as you sob a prayer to God: Help! Please! Protection! The words won’t matter; you will have turned all your attention to God. Sorrow, hope, and fear will pour out of you in groanings too deep for words. There will be no proper prayers, no lighting of candles, no folding of hands, no phone calls to begin a prayer chain . . . it will be just you with your heart broken wide open with the deep love of a mother for her child. Possibly years of accumulated shame will be your companion as well. Questions will plague you about what you might have done wrong, how you didn’t protect her well, pray enough, see the signs, deal with your own issues in time, etc etc. You might cry for a long time. You might have fallen to your knees by now, with your forehead touching the frozen dirt and dead leaves of the forest floor.
If you find yourself here, feeling more alone than you ever have before, you are in the right place. Eventually your sobbing will subside. Feeling utterly spent, you will begin to hear the quiet woods as the home of God where you are welcome, instead of as a hiding place. Suddenly, you will feel a Presence. Warm, safe, comforting. You will hear your breathing return to its natural rhythm. As you come to the remembrance that any real control you’ve ever had over the safety of your loved ones has only been imagined, and that God is and always has been our Protector and Healer, you might very well hear yourself uttering one last request: God . . . please let me know You’re with me. As you raise your swollen eyes from the ground, you might see a bright red cardinal feather flutter gently to the ground in front of your face, landing on the tiny patch of earth your forehead just vacated. If you see this feather, you will feel something ignite in your spirit–a connection to the Divine. Pain will be overshadowed by wonder, as, in one instant, you will know with such clarity and conviction that God, who made and inhabits All That Is, is speaking to you. You will just know. Beloved, I am with you. I love you. I will never leave you. Everything will be ok. Trust Me.
My friend, if you see that feather and hear that voice, I’m warning you . . . in a matter of seconds or minutes, you might feel tempted to doubt it is Real. Or divine. Or for you. As you pick up the perfect red feather, your mind might flirt with the word “coincidence” or even the word “crazy.” The old raspy voice of shame inside your head might challenge, “Why would God talk to you? Who do you think you are?” You might be tempted to leave the feather in the woods where it gracefully landed. Don’t. Pick it up. Carry it home. Tape it to your mirror. And when you look at your reflection and see the feather, don’t be scared to answer the question you were asked that day in the woods . . . “Who do you think you are?” Look boldly into the feathered mirror, and answer, “I am the Beloved of God” or “I am the one God sees and knows intimately” or “I hear God’s voice.” Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice.” Yes, they do. Sometimes we hear a voice, and other times God speaks through a feather. Or a hawk. Or a deer. Or a burning bush. Or the word of a stranger. God’s creative communication has no limits, no boundaries; we are only bound by our lack of openness.
A few years later, you might have learned a thing or two about God’s faithfulness. You might trust your own sense of “hearing” a little more, as your feather collection has increased. Soon your bathroom mirror might be beautifully framed in feathers of every kind and color. You might find yourself in the chair of a tattoo parlor, holding out your wrist, hearing the question of the tattoo artist. “Why do you want a feather on your wrist?” You might want to shrug or say it’s a long story. You might be tempted to quickly slip your hand back in your pocket and run out the door. Don’t. Instead, remind yourself of the day in the woods when God introduced you to this new language of feathers. Remember God’s intimate love for you and creative ways of speaking just to you. Think of your daughter who was protected and grew in strength, courage, and kindness. Once you are full of these remembrances, look at the tattoo artist, and if you’d like, without explanation or apology, answer her question. “God speaks to me in feathers.”
Janelle Harvey is a writer, nature-enthusiast, spiritual director, and mother of four. She currently serves as a facilitator in the Tending the Holy spiritual direction program for Christos Chicago. She strives to live authentically as a contemplative in the world and to help others do the same. Many days she can be found walking in the woods, where she finds it easiest to connect with God.