A Lesson in Contemplation

One weekday in spring, I went down to chapel after an early Mass and breakfast to pray my Liturgy of the Hours for morning. I sat still for a few moments trying to center myself and take in the presence of God which surrounded me.

Glancing out the large windows onto the landscape across the drive, there was a cluster of trees with the three largest pines in the center. Atop the tallest one sat a black crow so still I wasn’t sure that’s what I was seeing – it never uttered a sound or ruffled a feather to move – like a weathervane waiting for wind.

Eventually, another black bird came from the east making rough “caw” calls trying to engage the crow. The silent one was undisturbed seemingly unaware of the noisy bird who encircled her over and over to no avail. Giving up his unrequited love, the black bird flew away.

Again the busy one returned determined to distract the first one from her moment of contemplation. And once again that black bird gave up in desperation and flew away, his efforts wasted.

The third time he returned to run circles around the crow, a blackbird came from the west and joined his efforts to tempt the still one away from her prayer as she remained united with her maker.

Eventually, the two new friends flew off together to create their own life and adventure.

The beautiful crow sat silent and enraptured for several minutes more. Was my sight fooling me? Was she a living thing so bonded with her creator that she was enveloped in rapture, or was it just another tiny branch of needles that topped off the tree? As my gaze remained fixed on that object, she suddenly sang a sweet song of praise, spread out her wings, and flew off in another direction.

At first I was content to think that I was that focused crow and the other birds were interruptions that broke my concentration whenever I tried to pray: the people who knocked on my door or called my phone, the sudden chill in the air from the blowing vent, any one of the 67 sisters with whom I live, the sound of the washer, music or televisions, walkers or footsteps scraping the floor; or the lilt and laughter of voices in friendly conversation.

Suddenly, God sent another message. The distractions are all mine! How easily I am pulled away from my union with God in prayer by my own thoughts, petty annoyances, items on my “to do” list, worries about family or friends, fears about health, or planning for tomorrow. How often I give in to the things of life that capture my attention. I am the contemplative crow, but I am also my own busy blackbird.

I pray to nurture that God-life in me, to respond to the call of contemplation each and every day, to lean toward God whenever something captures my attention, to long for those God-moments when I can sit alone, quiet and still, in the presence of “the Lover of Us All” who delights in spending time in silence and solitude with each and every one of God’s beloved children.

Julianne McCauley, OSU