by Paul Snyder
Early morning is my favorite time of day. There is a certain stillness that arises when birds start singing their morning praises before the rising sun marks the beginning of a new day. In this time there is a freshness too from the misty air, which makes breathing a little easier and brings clarity to my thoughts. Perhaps this is the reason why many religious communities require early morning prayers.
My morning walks with my dog Bentley, which utilize a trail behind our apartment complex on the edge of a wooded area next to a small, winding creek, have been for me a meditative practice—a ritual that centers me before I begin the day. Over the last couple weeks this meditative practice has been enhanced by my encounters with Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, the names I have given to two mallard ducks, who use their palmate feet to paddle slowly along, sometimes plunging their heads into the creek to presumably sift through the water or mud to get insects, grasses, and seeds. With all of the pain and suffering in the world and our constant experience of death, which for me resurfaced in the wake of the Parkland Massacre, these ducks display a certain calming innocence.
Watching these mallard ducks reminded me of a poem that I was introduced to several years ago entitled “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry, who is a renowned American poet, author, and cultural critic. Berry writes,
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
In the beauty of his poem, Berry paints an image of worldly things that cause us anxiety and despair, and the anguish that comes from living in such a troubled world. But, the gloom within this poem is released when the speaker enters into the natural world, finding peace in the creatures who are exempt from the burdens that we carry. It is at the water’s edge where the speaker receives grace and is able to be free.
As people of faith, it is important to ask: what causes despair to grow in us? And, what makes us free?
In this season of Lent, we are invited to assess the things that burden our life, all the troubles and sins that cause us and our communities grief and anxiety, and the things that prohibit us from experiencing God’s grace. Lent provides us a space to take on new spiritual practices that help us become who God is calling us to be.
So, as we move throughout Lent and come closer to Holy Week, I encourage you to continue exploring new spiritual practices of prayer and meditation, perhaps even with a particular focus on the “wild things.” As I have experienced by watching Mr. and Mrs. Mallard, the “wild things” all around us offer a window into the peace and grace of God.