In her poem “Winter and a Nuthatch”, Mary Oliver sings the story of her relationship with a little bird that she, over time, coaxed down from a tree into her hand for food in the bitter winter. One day she was late, and found that the bird was feeding from another person’s hand. She found herself feeling some jealousy. Did this other person know how hard she had worked, how long she had stood in the snow to cultivate this relationship? And then, she brings us to this:
Nobody owns the sky or the trees.
Nobody owns the hearts of birds.
Still, being human and partial therefore to my own
though not resentful of others fashioning theirs—
I’ll come tomorrow, I believe, quite early. *
What a delightful and precarious edge we dance on in the storehouse. On the one hand, it is so easy for us to think of the things in the storehouse as OURS! We worked hard. We earned this. We OWN these things in the storehouse! On the other hand, haven’t even the things we’ve worked hard for and attended to and cared for also been gifts? Have they not, in some mysterious way, also been grace – that is, something we cannot claim complete control over but some wonderful gift to us – EVEN when we worked hard in the process to have them?
The true treasures in our storehouse are both things we have worked hard for and gifts of grace. We cannot own the trees. We cannot own the hearts of birds. Still, I will show up early tomorrow in hopes of making contact with both the trees and the hearts of birds!
Storehouse is not a finished package – which, by the way, is death. Storehouse is a living, dynamic relationship with the entire world, the whole universe. Will we show up early today to attend to it?
“Winter and the Nuthatch” by Mary Oliver, from Red Bird. © Beacon Press, 2008
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