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Archive for January, 2010

Our soul is a bird, the body a nest,
It may nestle there for a while, a century at the most.
They are wise who catch the bird
Before it quits the nest and flies off.

Amma

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The Tongue Cut Sparrow

This is a portion of a post on National Catholic Reporter of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. . .

Dr. Estes is a well known author and storyteller.   i would recommend anyone that longs for a clear compassionate voice to browse through her articles at NCR.

The entire link of this story can be found at:

http://ncronline.org/blogs/el-rio-debajo-del-rio/cutting-out-tongues-holy-people

The Tongue-Cut Sparrow

There lived an old man with a great, good heart.

One morning as he set out to chop wood to fashion into beautiful and useful objects, there came flying a pitiful little sparrow attacked by a swooping hawk. Old man immediately tore off his woolly cape and ran snapping it fiercely at the hawk, driving it away.

The bedraggled sparrow, its tiny heart beating ever so fast, flew into old man’s hands, and the old man spoke to the creature in a soothing voice.

When the tiny soul was calmed, old man opened his hands, releasing it into the air. The sparrow flew up and sang and sang, just for sheer joy of having been sheltered, for now being free.

Thereafter, old man set out a little of his soft, crumbled breakfast bread, a little saucer of water for sparrow. Sure enough, every morning, as old man sat waiting at the open window, the little bird would come eat, drink, and afterward sing so sweetly.

But old man’s wife became jealous of the sparrow. She was resentful that sparrow gave old man so much happiness and peace of soul.

She thought to herself, “I am going to catch that bird, do away with it. What a waste of time! Sitting around listening to a bird. Look at this place — there’s always the right way to do things!”

When next her husband went to the forest, as soon as he was out of sight, old woman crossed the room, her eyes sizzling with mal-intent. Little sparrow was still happily singing at the window.

But when sparrow spied old woman coming and saw the look on her face, it cowered. Old woman reached through the open window, trying to seize the frightened bird. But it escaped by flying into cottage itself, right up to the highest rafter.

“Shut up! Shut-up! Stop singing! Come down from there you ugly bird.” The old woman flailed at the rafters with her broom trying to dust bird down. The sparrow flew to another rafter, then another. But, finally her broad broom struck sparrow, and it dropped to the floor with a small and terrible cheep.

Old woman grabbed the sparrow up in her fist. The little bird struggled, trying to beat its wings so hard, and for a moment, the old woman felt afraid. But, her cold rage and envy drove deep. She would have killed bird could she have concealed it. But she had a better idea. All its damnable singing. She would fix that right now.

And so, she forced open the bird’s tiny beak. She drove a sharp thorn right through the bird’s tongue.

Now it could no longer sing. Sparrow struggled in terror and pain. Finally, it escaped old woman’s grasp. In a panic it flew round and round the room. At last, under eaves, it found an opening to outdoors, and strained through. The wounded sparrow flew far into the deepest forest.

When old man returned home, his wicked spouse crowed about exactly what she had done. “That bird was driving me crazy. It chattered like a squirrel. Hour after hour. It would not cease. No one could have a normal conversation. So I have silenced it forever.”

Tears sprang up in old man’s eyes. “You! he said, “you are the most evil heart I have ever known. How could you harm such an innocent creature who was only singing the song it came to sing?”

Finally, with his old wife raining curses down upon him for not acquiescing to her, old man stumbled out into the forest vowing to seek the songbird or else die himself.

Near nightfall, he had to admit that although he had found his way into the deeper forest, he could not so easily find his way back out again. But then, ahead he saw a great jumble made of sticks, straws, roots, and ragged red ribbons. Thinking perhaps he could take rest at this strange but beautiful abode, he rapped upon its door.

A woman of indeterminate age answered. She had long silver hair and a beautiful gown made of soft gray and brown feathers.

“A drink of water for a weary traveler, please?” old man begged.

The beautiful woman nodded kindly, but it was apparent she could not speak. She indicated to him with her graceful gestures that he was welcome there. She brought him water, then, delicious bread. As she walked, her bare feet made little clicking sounds on floor. She gestured that he ought lie by the fire to be safe and warm till morning. This old man accepted with gratitude.

Just after dawn, the beautiful woman in her long feathered gown again gave old man water and bread. When he tried to thank her, she moved instead to a long table, showing him two trunks, one small, the other large. She smiled and gestured that old man ought choose one.

“Oh no, I have contributed nothing, I could not accept a gift from you,” said old man. But he could see her feelings were hurt. So he chose the smaller chest and put it under his thick woodsman’s cape. Outside, the beautiful woman set old man’s shoulders in the right direction, and he waved her good-bye as he set out toward home. He could not put words to it, but he felt strangely rested and heartened.

Yet, he dreaded returning to the old woman. Sure enough, once home, old woman’s tongue burnt holes in walls as she railed. “He” had upset the order of things. “He” had made her wait the pitiful evening meal. “He” was an ingrate. “He” hadn’t the faintest idea of what was of value and what was not.

Even when old man told her he had become lost but fortunately found safe shelter, she continued her harangue.

By then, old man had absentmindedly drawn the small chest out from under his cape. Suddenly, in syrup tones, his wife wanted to know what was in it. “Well, I have not yet looked,” confessed old man.

“Well, let us see then, you fool,” said old woman. She poked at the clasp. She lifted the lid ever so slightly. A bright ray of light shot out. Old woman threw back the lid. Within, lo, were gemstones of every kind. “Ah,” sighed old woman, her eyes glittering with greed. Her hands snaked over the stones, feeling them for their weight rather than admiring their beauty.

She piled the biggest ones on her side of the table and pressed old man to tell her how he had come upon such treasure. As he reluctantly revealed how his host had insisted he chose between two gifts, his eyes were opened even further to the blackness of the old woman’s heart.

“You idiot,” blared old woman. “You were offered two caskets and you chose the smaller? I swear old man, you are only good for burying in the garden. A tongue in your head was wasted on you.” And, old woman forced him to tell her exactly the path he’d taken through the woods to find the hovel of the mysterious woman.

She set out that very night. “I will get the big chest of jewels,” she muttered to herself as she stomped along. Sure enough, as old woman walked ever deeper into the forest, she eventually came to a place made of sticks, straws, roots, and tattered red ribbons.

“Hmmph, this must be the ugly place old man described!” She rapped hard upon the door. When it was answered by a lovely woman in a gray and brown feathered gown, old woman demanded, “Give me bread and water.” The gentle woman proceeded to attend to her guest immediately.

Old woman gobbled up the bread, slurped down the water, then hastened to take her leave. “I won’t be lying on your filthy floor by your fire for the night. I just came for one thing. Show me the gifts.”

Her hostess nodded and clicked across the floor. She brought out two chests, one large, one small. She indicated that old woman ought choose one.

“It’s about time,” snapped old woman, and dragged the largest chest toward herself. She hoisted it onto her back and struggled off into the night without even giving a good-bye or thank you.

As old woman lugged herself along, the chest became heavier and heavier. Soon, she was gasping, bent nearly double with her nose almost dragging on the ground. Thus, when she came to a rough crossroads, she set the chest down. There in the dark she tried to pry open the trunk’s clasp. But it would not give way. She took off her shoe and banged on the lock until it broke.

In triumph she threw back the lid. But instead of jewels, seventy-seven serpents sprung out of the chest, wrapped themselves around old woman, squeezing her, and all the greed and envy in her, to death.

It is said the old man wept for losing his wife, for in his kindest heart he was able to see her good points.

But truth be told, it was sparrow whom he was entirely lonely for. Sometimes it is longing which makes the soul of another find its way to you, for one night, a short time later, as he lay in his bed near sleep, he thought he heard a little sound outside. He went out into the night in his big bare feet. But no, standing under stars, he could not trace the source of rustling.

Next night he again thought he heard a sound. It went on like this night after night.

Then, one morning as old man arose, he heard the first bright notes of the sweetest song, a calling song that sang of the tenderness of true love, the hardship of struggle, the sweetness of victory.

It was the songbird come back again! And the radiant soul sang so sweetly now. It sang in the mornings, and also near dusk. Each morning old man laid out little crumbles of bread and a saucer of water and sat with great joy at his window listening to the singing. Every evening he laid out more bread, more water, and in peace, sat again at the window, listening and listening to the sweetest song.

But, there was a difference now.

Not only were the bread and water never taken. The songbird who sang could be heard, but could not be seen.

Old man could hear her, clear as though she were inside himself. But, search the trees and leaves as he might, she was not to be found there.

Yet, for the rest of his long life, he would hear the voice dearest to him, the one which kept his wild woodsman’s heart completely whole.


There are many ways to understand this story which is normally told over five nights’ time, with each part carefully parsed by the listeners. Objectively, one can see how a culture, any culture poisoned or led by a group or an individual consumed by envy and greed for being “the only one,” “the only voice allowed,” is like the old woman … who can be understood symbolically as representing all that exactly. She seals her own demise by continuing to sever every source of joy in others while presenting herself over and over as the only acceptable alternative to true love … but a dead and decaying alternative that no real soul can thrive in.

We can see too, once spirit sings, no matter what you do to it, silence it, split it’s tongue, cut its tongue out — in reality, a favored maiming technique used on imagined apostates by medieval Church as well as by way too many modern day Catholic soldiers assaulting peasant-farmers in Latin America… the spirit, nonetheless, will continue to reflect that gemlike quality of soul in itself…and in others, somehow… It will continue to also reflect evil in those who are snake-hearted, meaning basely and instinctually intent on poisoning others.

Old woman in the tale is unable to comprehend that songbird cannot do anything but sing its most beautiful song; that song given to the little sparrow by Creator. The sparrow did no harm in any way, but rather delighted the soul so purely, and this alone, this purity, caused the one who was short on genuine soul to bloat with Envidia.

The antagonist in the story never develops “the deeper vision,” that the old man carries… and thereby the antagonist does not become “the bride of love,” but rather “the butcher of those who truly love.”

The resolution or lysis offered by the tale in part, is to not give up seeking the song, to never give up seeking the one who sings it.

May we pray hard then, even though we may have no idea where in the forest the most precious songbird sleeps now … we know we saw her once at least, and even when we cannot see the source of the singing, we can hear it, drench ourselves in that holy sound, that sound that no matter what, cannot be silenced forever.

Isn’t that what we old believers have always followed?
The singing?
Even when we cannot with mundane eyes, see The Singer?

Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

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i pray to the birds

I pray to the birds.

I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward.  I pray to them because I believe in their existence, the way their songs begin and end each day—the invocations and benedictions of Earth.  I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love rather than what I fear.  And at the end of my prayers they teach me to listen.

Terry Tempest Williams

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upon Her wings

”  The earth rolls upon her wings, and the sun giveth

his light by day, and the moon giveth her light

by night, and the stars give their light, as

they roll upon their wings in their glory, in the

midst of the power of God.

Upon what shall I liken these kingdoms that we may understand?

hath seen any or the least of these hath seen God

moving in his majesty and power.

Mormon scripture, from the Doctrine and Covenants section 88:44-47

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” I was raised to believe in a spirit world, that life exists before the earth and will continue to exist afterwards, that each human being , bird, and bulrush, along with all other life forms, had a spirit life before it came to dwell physically on the earth.  Each occupied an assigned sphere of influence, each has a place and a purpose.”

Terry Tempest Williams

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Spirit of it all

“. . .the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering  of the birds, the rippling of might waters,  and the sweet breathing of flowers.”

Gertrude Simmons Binnin

Dakota Sioux

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“Keep the child within alive, the child never tires of hearing the birds sing, never gets bored looking at flowers.” Amma

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Older Posts »

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