Bird by F’n Bird

Last summer my friend Allison tried an experiment on me, asking “Why?” five times in a row. She said it reveals deeper things about someone.

“What’s something you’re committed to this year?” Learning more about birds.

“Why?” Because I’m starting to get into them.

“Why?” Because I like the bird calls.

“Why?” Because they’re the first thing I hear in the morning.

“Why?” Because they make me glad that I’m alive.

“Why?” Hafiz says to stay close to any sound that makes you glad that you’re alive.

At the end of coursework for my dissertation, I ended a ten year relationship with a priest (who had left after six years), who had previously been my professor, a relationship I now understand to be an abuse of power. I wasn’t able to write. I spent my exam year listening to music and watching Seinfeld. I scratched together exam questions out of papers I’d written, and managed to pass. I still couldn’t write. I became a yoga teacher, and then an advanced yoga teacher. I got a certification in trauma sensitive yoga. I put together a dissertation (again, mostly based on earlier work) on deification and trauma, and the way that liturgy can restore us to ourselves. I was hopeful of publishing it, but too scared to expose something so close to me. I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and, although I don’t reveal that in the text, I didn’t think I could handle a critique on what is very personal for me. I tucked it away and started teaching in a college in prison program, which I love. Years went by, and I hadn’t looked at it again. Still unable to write, still unable to face it. Meanwhile, the grand jury in Pennsylvania happened, and I started thinking that I had maybe asked the wrong question. I started asking myself why the Church cultivates and hides abuse. My hope for this workshop is to unite these two questions, rather than giving up one for the other. My goal is to look at my dissertation again, and see what is there of value for others, incorporate these new questions, and move it towards publication. I hope to overcome my eleven years of writers’ block.

What is hope but the possibility of change? (-Steven Colbert, to Michelle Obama)

Inspired to paint a Black Jesus. I tried to convey His emotion ...
The cloud of witnesses I invoke to accompany me includes Hannah Gadsby, Greg Boyle, Casey Stanton, and my students at Westville Correctional Facility.

Blessed are you, Gracious God, creator of the universe and giver of life. You formed us in your own image and called us to dwell in your infinite love. You gave the world into our care that we might be your faithful stewards and show forth your bountiful grace. But we failed to honor your image in one another and in ourselves; we would not see your goodness in the world around us; and so we violated your creation, abused one another, and rejected your love. Yet you never ceased to care for us, and prepared the way of salvation for all people.  (-Eucharistic prayer I, Anglican)


What other sounds make me glad that I am alive? Rain. My wife’s greeting. 91.1 The Globe. Eggs cooking. Wind in the trees. Threshold singing. Waves crashing on the Atlantic.

Thanks, Jeanne, for the idea of this as an archaeological undertaking. To mark off the area, gently dig, brush, excavate. Leave the sand, take that which has been buried.

Leah invited me to think of myself as Aaron, as standing up there, trusting that God will give me the words to speak. This is the scariest idea for an INFP Enneagram 5. Public speaking without preparation, without research? No way. But the idea that these aren’t my words to be protective of, but God’s words that must be spoken in the light opens new ways of seeing that are freeing. Aaron is the mouthpiece— not the trumpet, not Louis Armstrong, not the music. That makes me want to meditate…and clean out all the gunk that blocks the passage; but, even that has to be the work of the divine musician. (As a violinist, I was always mildly horrified at all the spit involved in brass.)

Aaron’s wife’s name means “abundance.” My wife has also been a source of God’s abundance for me over the last 3 years. God has also been abundant in my teaching— as a youngest child, it’s powerful when people write down the things you say. Will that abundance extend into speaking, writing, “going public”? Yes, if I stay close to Louis Armstrong. It is a helpful image, because, like Peter’s dream, God’s word always comes as a surprise.

Leah also asked, in light of Moses and the burning bush, what burning mission have I received? What do I need to know, in order to trust that I won’t be destroyed as the bush was not destroyed? The burning mission is to tell the truth. To tell the truth about trauma, abuse, racism. I think all I need to know is that they are not my words, but God’s words, and as such, they cannot be destroyed.

Sarah asked what next “gentle and doable” step I could take— I will open my dissertation file, and give it a quick look.

5 thoughts on “Bird by F’n Bird

  1. May you have the safety and space you need to unfurl your wings and eventually fly.

    You are courageous to share so much with us. What is the next gentle and doable step you can take?

  2. Thank you, Sheila. You honor us with your trust. We receive it with reverence. May all that you need for healing and wholeness be yours.

  3. Sheila, your post is the first thing I read this morning as birdsong broke the dawn, your words a gift from God to to set my day in blessings. I want to read everything you’ve ever written and everything you will ever write, because your path is sacred and similar to mine. Why does the church cultivate and hide abuse? If we persist in the why, where will those whys lead us? May your words find safe passage to many pages. The world needs your voice. I need your voice.

  4. It is a gift to read your words. Thank you for writing and sharing so honestly.

    Are there other sounds that make you feel glad you’re alive? I hope you can find some and cling to them as you begin this process.

    I was talking to Casey yesterday and she astutely named how this process for me is like archeology. I wonder if that image is helpful for you too. I think of your comment on the absurdity of standing among the dry bones and calling forth life. Yet, maybe there is space here to dig up what is valuable from the past, reclaim old parts of yourself, ask God to breathe life into it, and leave behind the rest as dust.

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