I write this morning to the sights and sounds of a squirrel having been traumatized by a Cooper’s Hawk who tried to have him for breakfast. He is now sprawled out on the side of an oak tree, tail quivering and barking at a bird of prey that almost ended his life. The young hawk, clothed in the kind of feathers that represent an immature bird, after unsuccessfully obtaining breakfast, came and sat about 20 feet from me, right after the sun had risen, unaware that I was so close.
They are called “Thin Places” in the Celtic tradition of spirituality. A “Thin Place” is where the veil that separates heaven and earth is lifted and one is able to receive a glimpse of the glory of God. Just now was one of those places. Another is from my most recent visit with my pain doctor and I wanted to share that particular thinning space. There is a Celtic saying that “heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller!” I had returned home from an appointment with my pain doctor, parked my truck, and reached over in to the passenger seat to gather whatever paperwork and stuff the doctor had given me before exiting my truck.
The appointment had gone well for the most part. I had brought with me on this day an article that had been written about my pain struggle and my portfolio of previous art pieces. As a side note, I want you to understand that I look at my portfolio with a strong sense of sadness. It represents a time when I could sit in my shop and work endlessly with little or no pain as I completed the beautiful art projects represented in the pages of this book. This time for artists is called a “zone”, where an artist can sit in one place and mentally and spiritually go to another place that allows for greater creativity. My pain often prevents me from going to that “zone”, unable to stand after a few minutes of work or unable to focus on the project.
I had taken the portfolio to allow the doctor to see what it was that was at stake in my work with him and he was so very much impressed. The pictures reflected not only just fancy art pieces but it reflected a gift that I have always acknowledged to be straight from the living God, pictures of thin places represented through my creations. And now the gift if not gone, is certainly leaving quickly. For you see, I go to my shop and it now becomes more difficult than ever due to the pain and shortness of time by which I am able to do what I have loved. Am I depressed? Oh yeah! More depressed than I can express to anyone who reads this. I have watched my life as it has grown more limiting in what I can do and I keep yelling to the God of gifts, please pull me off of this ride, please! Please help me to continue in those precious thin places!
After getting home and pulling into the driveway, I got out of the truck and looked down and low and behold there it was; a feather. I had no room in my hands to pick it up so I went inside, threw my belongings down and returned to its resting place. I bent over and picked it up, holding it in my hand, and I knew exactly who it had belonged to; it was from a Cooper’s Hawk. It was a primary feather, the feather found on the outer part of a wing which gave the swift flying bird the ability to do what God had empowered it to do. I held the feather by the quill and stroked the hair-like fibers, going first against the flow and then grooming the hairs back in place. This was not just a simple feather my friends, It was and is a thin place.
One of the topics that I am grappling with is how do I continue to create. The pain has all taken its toll. The surgeries have all taken their toll. The depression has taken its toll. And here in lies the beauty of a simple molted feather. It is that time of the year when birds are molting and getting prepared for what the next season lies ahead. If it is waterfowl or songbirds, they are being prepared to fly the distances needed and the strength for the fall and winter through the shedding of old feathers for new ones. If it is a bird of prey, it is dropping old feathers and growing new ones that will help it to be able to fly and attack whatever is needed for sustenance, able to do and be what God has created it to be.
So how do I know that this is the feather from a Cooper’s Hawk? A few years ago I carved and painted a flying Cooper’s Hawk that I titled “Amazing Grace”.
I had been inspired to do the carving as I observed a Cooper’s Hawk on the grounds of the church where my family and I were attending. I was in the midst of one of those “life transitions” and was asking God for a little bit of clarification. In the midst of this all, I became a constant observer of this Cooper’s Hawk and even named her Grace. I watched her dive and chase songbirds and squirrels, sometimes successful, most times not, but the whole of the events of this time, throughout the weeks and months of watching her, was nothing other than a spectacular “Thin Place”, the space that God had given to me where the veil was lifted and I was able to experience the glory of God.
Now, instead of the bird, instead of watching and being inspired by the acrobatics of a beautiful raptor, I was holding a molted feather from its wing. Suddenly for me, the thin place became a little thinner and the veil between dirt and spirit, between suffering and rest, between heaven and earth was ever so slightly lifted. My pain doctor, I am convinced, is a gift straight from God. Over the last three months, I have “molted” the levels of narcotic pain meds, molted some attitudes regarding my pain, suffered less, become more hopeful, found new treatment options, found a new pain counselor, discovered more possibilities for treatment, started vitamin supplements, taken more control of my pain management and am feeling less disabled. Am I cured? Oh heck no. Do I have less pain? By all means! Do I wrestle with all that lay in front of me? Yes! But at least now I am on a journey that I am able to see and experience good options for treatment and maybe even a molting of old flight feathers for new ones.