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  • Sonya Leigh Anderson

Manna & Chickadees

The habit of attention is the substance of prayer.

-Simone Weil*

I’m reading this book; I mentioned it in my last post. (Actually, I believe my last two posts made reference to books. But alas. It’s winter, and I live in Minnesota, and what else is there to talk about?) So. I’m reading this book. A book so good, not even halfway through, I stopped to order a second copy, to ship to a friend. Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night.

This morning, reading my Bible, and reading this book, my soul was sweetly happy. I was HAPPY. Even though this book is mostly about grieving. Lamenting. Which I appreciate, too. Because there are seasons for grief, and there are seasons for breathing. And we are meant for both, and both matter.

So this morning I was reading. And the author said something that took me back. It took me back to my own hard season, and my husband’s, too. It was a season of a sort of grieving, although, given the circumstances, this grief, though quite deep, was something we could hardly talk about, except with each other. Which maybe made it especially hard.

Honestly, it was terribly hard.

And then. In the middle of this hardest season, I experienced something exquisite. Something so precious. And this author, Tish Harrison Warren, she describes it, too:

…I slowly began to intentionally make space to weep and to watch. When I did, I began to intensely crave beauty and wonder… As I endured the mystery of loss, any picture of beauty, moral or physical, was manna.

(I stop reading. Take my pencil, and write in the margin. “YES!”)

Beauty itself was a mother to me, comforting me in her wordless embrace… Beauty doesn’t take away the pain of suffering or vulnerability. It’s not like cicada song…

(for me it was the song of the chickadee)

…makes it hurt any less to lose a spouse or a friendship, or even just to have a hard day. But in the times when we think anguish and dimness are all there is in the world, that nothing is lovely or solid, beauty is a reminder that there is more to our stories than sin, pain, and death. There is eternal brilliance.

Warren’s words remind me of reading Ann Voskamp, for the first time, years ago. Ann found a way out of her own deep darkness by the “eucharisteo” practice of paying attention, and being thankful. I learned this, too. Not from Ann (I don’t think) but by the tender prompting of my Holy Spirit. Pay attention, and write it down. This is manna.

Warren says this, too:

This wonder didn’t diminish the pain one bit. But it did beget gratitude, which is just as real as grief.

So true. So true.

Those manna days are a memory now. Still real. Still poignant. But distant. Now I read a book about grief and darkness, and I think of others. A friend. A parent. A son. A brother. Those for whom I pray at night.

I wonder sometimes, if our move to the lake, and our home in these woods, is directly related to that grieving season. Those days when beauty meant breathing, and breathing meant provision for one more day.

I am creating a little book, of sorts. Not the publishing variety, but one to share. More of a scrapbook, or a journal, with amateur sketches, and handwritten notes. A book about soul care and healing and restoration. Scripture, and poetry, and spiritual practices. Paying attention as a form of prayer. I will keep this scrappy little book in our bunkhouse, alongside Warren’s book, and Voskamp’s. My dream, and my husband’s, is to share this beauty and wonder—our bit of manna—with those who are needing it most.

Winter is long, and dreadfully cold, this year especially, here at our lake. But we know we are through the worst of it when the days grow longer. Mornings dawn a bit brighter, and sooner. Evenings wait a bit longer.

Just this week, the chickadees returned to our white pine feeder, along with the squirrels. (Where had they been before now?) The forecast is still frigid, ten days out, dangerous ice on the path leading to our front door. But there is something about birds, and the sun, and the breath of promise, that makes me happy.

Spring will come.


*Coincidentally, both Warren and Bilbro (see post from February 2) use this quote from Simone Weil.

All quotes from Warren’s book are taken from pages 62-63.

Voskamp describes “eucharisteo” in One Thousand Gifts. I am eager to read her new book, WayMaker, when it is released in March 2022!

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