The Fainting Robin

Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.

    I have found that when it comes to poetry, most people prefer the kind of poem they intuitively understand and the kind of poem that makes something inside of them resonate, prompting them to ponder a certain mystery of life.

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking

   The other day, when I opened a book of Emily Dickinson’s poetry at random, there was a marker by a very familiar stanza known to many of us. It read: “If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.” Later in the stanza, Dickinson talks about helping the fainting robin into its nest again.*

    Living the monastic life-style often enables us to stop and make connections that ordinarily would not be easy in another way of life. When I read the above, I found myself recalling a commentary I had heard recently having to do with what it means to be a daughter or son of God. Because we hear this so often, the deeper meaning of the expression has grown dim, and maybe even boring, for many of us. The speaker pointed out that the expression “daughter and son of God” carries with it the sense of being more a verb than a noun. He went on to use expressions like the “Doing God” and the “Indwelling God”. A son or daughter of God is someone in whom God dwells and through whom God acts. In the Risen Jesus, God fully acts and fully dwells.


    It occurs to me that the same dynamic is true for the rest of us. The “Indwelling God” does indeed abide within us, to the extent that we provide a home. In addition, the “Doing God” also acts in us and through us. To consider that God acts through us can be an awesome and humbling thought. We all know that there are times when we feel that our skill, our openness, and our struggling efforts to allow this to happen may be anything but shining. Still, even in these moments, God acts, and good happens. Possibly, the best things happen when we are not aware of it.

   Returning to the expressions of a broken heart and a fainting robin, I have become aware of the unspoken burden and the unexpressed suffering that many people carry around with them, day in and day out, without anyone ever knowing anything about it. If only we knew! All the intentions on out Prayer Board are a testimony to this, as well as the many telephone calls and the visits at our door. This means that all of us, no matter who we are or where we may be, are called to mediate the compassion of God.

More To The Adventure

    There are spiritual writers these days who feel that God is not only a “Doing God” and an “Indwelling God” but that God will not be fully God until God fully reigns. In a way, then, mediating the compassion of God enables us to enter into God’s own journey, in the here and now. God, too, is on a journey, always wanting to be more of a God for us. Like God, we go out from ourselves toward the other. The hermits of Mt. Carmel learned this. Wanting to be alone with the Alone initially, they went up the mountain to seek and to find God, feeling that the higher they went, the closer they would be to God. Eventually, anyone who ascends the mountain, or goes deep within, learns that there is more to the adventure than what they first expected. Any contemplative moment that may happen within us is for our own conversion and transformation, of course, but somehow, it is also for others.

   I like to think that there are different ways of mediating the compassion of God. Sometimes, we exercise compassion by bringing to the situation the joy of God. We have a Sister here who, when the situation needs a bit of lifting up, has just the right kind of news or a good story. We think she secretly keeps the stories on hand just in case. Being serene in an attentive listening stance is also a wonderful way of mediating the compassion of God.

The Compassion Of Presence

    Lastly, I would like to mention the compassion of presence. It involves recounting an incident. Shortly before coming to the monastery, I took a course in Clinical Pastoral Education. One day while on duty, I came upon a tall man pacing back and forth at the end of a hospital corridor. When I attempted to engage him in conversation, he simply pointed to a room nearby with the door closed. His wife was in there in a diabetic coma and probably would not make it. The medical staff was working on her. A short time later, I entered another room where the same man was looking down at his wife, who was lying very still, with eyes closed. I joined him. Both of us looked down at the woman. Being new at the practice, I searched within for the appropriate word. I found none. So, I stood quietly beside him and said nothing. That day, I learned the compassion of presence.

Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson Poems, Ed. Joanna Brownell (New Jersey: Castle Books, 2002) p.4.

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