morning prayer with robins

This morning at the duck pond with my customary cup of coffee, I looked up over the brim to see a family of robins trolling for worms in a grass as green as the cover of my London Review of Books. The sunlight hit each and every blade, you could count them, like Monet.

At my feet, the sweet pigeon cock, who, for the past few days, has been in the hottest of heat, strutted around, circling another sleek black hen. His clicks and darts, even his mane of iridescent feathers, made no favorable impression. After humoring him with a few responding darts and feints, the hen left the dance and waddled over to the other side of my feet. Cock-blocking the poor pigeon with my presence. Being a buffer of unwanted attention is my second job, girlfriend, I said. You enjoy that freedom until nesting season begins.

This is spring. The idyllic sunshine disturbed by a bitterly cold wind, coming off of storm fronts and changing weather patterns. This morning on my run there was such a crispness in the air I thought for a moment it was autumn. Have the seasons changed without telling us? The calendar has shifted unawares, and we are living in an autumn we can’t recognize. No wonder the time is out of joint. The seasons have swapped places.

If I couldn’t see the cherry trees trumpeting into bloom and the slow wash of green overtaking the woods, I wouldn’t realize that this is spring. If the birds weren’t twitterpated with eagerness for one another, I would have missed the season’s cues entirely.

This morning, praying with my roommate at his Zoom church, I was struck halfway through by how the prayers the congregation said were all calling upon God to act. God, you are powerful, you are mighty—act for us. Act on our behalf. Such language felt utterly foreign.

I don’t know if this is cynicism or pain or woundnessness. Perhaps a lack of faith on my part. It’s hard to pray the psalmist’s claim that not a bone of the righteous will be broken as you call to mind a litany of friends, bodies you knew and once wrapped your arms around, smashed in car crashes. It’s hard to claim that righteousness means safety. In those moments, did God forget to act? Could they have been avoided with a few more invocations for righteous power and protection?

I don’t know.

What is the language of my own prayer? I wondered. And I realized it is not prayer to a distant God, but one who is near. Invocations I am most familiar with—in liturgy, in private prayer, in the structure of intercessory imagination that I have build my own life on—is to pray for God to be with us. The prayer is most often not that God would act but that we might see where God is working.

Not that God intercede on our behalf, but that God be with us.

Perhaps this is a weak prayer, a prayer that is hedging its bets, playing it safe, scared of losing, scared of not being heard. Scared of bad things happening despite God’s actions and our righteousness.

Or perhaps it is simply a prayer to a vulnerable God. A God who was crushed, stripped, mocked, tortured to death. A God whose love is immeasurable, whose love reaches beyond even its most poignant expression of it, stretched between heaven and earth, and that continues to yearn for us in the present day. It is a prayer for what we yearn for the most and what God desires more than anything—that we walk, like Adam, in the garden with God.

So we pray that we learn to see God like a subtle spring, revealed slowly, surprisingly, and in small moments easily overlooked.

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