Visitation

The first time it happened, I was sitting at my computer, much as I am now.

When I write, the words sometimes come to me in a stream, and I lose track of time. Sometimes, they come in fits and starts. And sometimes, of course, they don’t come at all.

At that moment, the words weren’t coming. I sat back in my chair and gazed blankly out the window above my desk, relaxing my mental grip. And suddenly there he was. A brilliant flash of color darted into view, alighting on the myrtle tree that stands on the other side of the glass.

I know nothing about birds. But it took only a brief online search to identify my little visitor: a hooded oriole, whom my wife and I promptly nicknamed “Ori” (we’re wickedly clever that way). The species is supposedly fairly common to our area. But in over 30 years of living in the same house, I’d never seen one. Until that day.

It felt like a visitation — not quite from God, perhaps, but of wonder at God’s creation, of color in the bleakness of pandemic, of hope in the midst of numbing uncertainty.

Ori stayed for less than a minute, fluttering, hovering, then darting away. I was the only one to see him, and had to rely on Google to share the experience with my wife. After that, I was on the lookout, occasionally even standing at the patio door hoping that Ori would return. And indeed, over the next week, he would drop in a few times more. (It’s possible, of course, that Ori only came once, and the other visitations were from his cousins. But I like the first story better.)

It took a couple of tries before we got the timing right. I would see Ori, then call to my wife, who had to come running before he flew away. He never perched long enough to get a good long look, let alone a picture. But my wife did eventually see him, albeit as not much more than a blur of dark black and bright yellow among the myrtle leaves.

I fantasized that he might nest in our of our trees. But he hasn’t been back. And every so often, I glance out the window and wonder.

There are things we can do, as Christians, to cultivate hope. We can rehearse the biblical story, imagining ourselves once again as participants in the grand drama that runs from creation to new creation — from dust to life, to dust again, and finally to life eternal.

But there is something about hope that cannot be domesticated. It can visit in a moment, bright and winged. Our place is not to control it but to wait for it. Our challenge is to let go of our preoccupations just long enough to notice the visitation when it comes.

Hope comes as a sign. We may wish for the sign to be repeated, but the repetition may cause us eventually to take the sign for granted. Better to cherish the memory and let it point us toward a more sacred stance: the world belongs to God.

And if we are watching, if we pay attention, there is always wonder to behold. 

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