There’s an image at the beginning of this poem, which is an image of a contemporary of St. Colman, and his name was St. Kevin, and he was the kind of Irish St. Francis, because he had this remarkable experience with all the animals and birds. He was constantly losing his prayer book, and then an otter would bring it back; and then he’d lose it again, and a stork would bring it. You get the feeling he was just chucking it in the river in the end, and they were just bringing it back.
But Kevin was praying in his cell. And the old Irish monks used to pray, not with their hands together, but with their hands out. They also had a half-moon tonsure at the front and long hair at the back, so they looked incredibly cool.
He was praying there — you’ve got to imagine him — and then, suddenly, a blackbird was flying past and looked down and saw this wonderful palm there; said, “That’s a lovely place to perch.” So it flew down. And Kevin, being so compassionate towards the natural world, decided he’d keep praying so as not to disturb the bird. But the bird looked around and said, “This is a great old place for a nest,” and so it started flying backwards and forwards and building a circle of twigs and feathers. Again, Kevin, being compassionate toward the bird, kept praying. And then, finally, the nest was done. But of course, didn’t the blackbird lay an egg in the nest? So Kevin had to keep praying, and then, of course, there was a chick in the nest. Kevin had to keep praying. Then the chick had to be fledged. Finally, mother and daughter bird flew off into the wild blue yonder. And Kevin could stretch and put his hands together. Of course, it’s an apocryphal story, but it’s actually really psychologically precise as to the phenomenology of deep meditation, of warming interior forms into light. So that’s the first invitation.
So I’ll take you up to Colman’s bed through these invitations, and then we’ll all say good night.
“Make a nesting now, a place to which / the birds can come, think of Kevin’s / prayerful palm holding the blackbird’s egg / and be the one, looking out from this place / who warms interior forms into light. / Feel the way the cliff at your back / gives shelter to your outward view / then bring in from those horizons / all discordant elements that seek a home. // Be taught now, among the trees and rocks, / how the discarded is woven into shelter, / feel the way things hidden and unspoken / slowly proclaim their voice in the world. / Find that far inward symmetry / to all outward appearances, begin to welcome back / all you sent away, be a new annunciation, / make yourself a door through which / to be hospitable, even to the stranger in you. // See with every turning day, / how each season wants to make a child / of you again, wants you to become / a seeker after birdsong and rainfall, / watch how it weathers you / into a testing in the tried and true, / tells you with each falling leaf, / to leave and slip away, even from the branch that held you, / to be courageous, to go when you need to / to be like that last word you’d want to say before you leave the world. // Above all, be alone with it all, / a hiving off, a corner of silence / amidst the noise, refuse to talk, / even to yourself, and stay in this place / until the current of the story / is strong enough to float you out. // Ghost then, to where others / in this place have come before, / under the hazel, by the ruined chapel, / below the cave where Colman slept, / Live in this place / as you were meant to and then, / surprised by your abilities, / become the ancestor of it all, / the quiet, robust and blessed Saint / that your future happiness / will always remember.”