Black Birds, Blackberries, and the Work of Resurrection

Today is Easter Sunday , April 12 , 2009 - a good time for a little reflection. I want to begin in perhaps an unusual way by commending to you the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Irish poet born in 1939 who, among many things , was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Google and youtube his name and unexpected delights are there for your enjoyment. In an attempt to draw out some fresh meaning from the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus, I would direct your attention to two poems by Heaney: first, there is the poem entitled " St. Kevin and the Blackbird; and then - " Black-Berry Picking". If you've ever been to Ireland you know that both Blackbirds and Blackberries are to be found in abundance though the former can be seen at all times of the year , while the latter make their all too brief appearance around August .

So, what do Blackbirds and Blackberries have to do with Jesus' Resurrection? First, like the traditional Christian belief in a physical, bodily resurrection Heaney's two poems, like much of his work, is all about physicality - the deep appreciation of the body with all it's senses. The Blackbird is felt in the palm of St. Kevin's hand ...its " warm eggs, small breast, tucked head and claws..." Kevin's entire body responds to this encounter later in the poem as he holds the little creature " for weeks" until the eggs are hatched. Turning to the poem about blackberries we see something similar. Both pleasure and pain are expressed in these memorable lines: "... You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet, like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it, leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for picking..." And later... " where briars scratched..and thorns pricked..." This momentarty burst of blackberry life lasts all too short and is cause for the poet to weep.
On to Jesus' resurrection. Remember who saw the first glimpse of the newly alive Jesus? It was Mary as she sat weeping. It was only through tears that she saw the resurrected Jesus. I think sometimes we expect a sanitized Easter - a quick fix, fast and easy resurrection. We forget that Easter and resurrection are a messy business that require being with paradox, longing and the awful waiting. There is work, labor, and even tears that bring about new life and that every time. Whether it's blackbirds and St. Kevin or blackberries in August...For us to experience any of it there is patient, and painstaking work to be done. And, lest we forget - joy in the doing.
The poetry reminds us that resurrection comes through our deepening experience and embrace of everything this world is . The poets and saints have always known this.
So have the black-berry pickers.

Some closing lines from St. Kevin and the Blackbird...

"... Alone and mirrored clear in love's deep river...

to labor and not seek reward...

finding himself linked into the network of eternal life...".

The Blessing of Blackbirds and Blackberries to You
This Resurrection Day,

Stefan Andre

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