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Spiritual Reflections

Brown Bird

by Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins

Joyce Tompkins is the Religious Advisor to the Campus Protestant Community. Other Spiritual Reflections are available on the Religious Advisor's page.

You can write to Joyce at

A brown bird sings on a bare branch.

It is the very end of November, a time of pause and hush between the colors of autumn and the start of winter. Harvest time, when the fields give up their fruits and rest in quiet hues of brown and beige and muted gold. In the woods, the bright leaves have fallen - they came down in a blizzard of gold in the windy rain of Thanksgiving Day. The trees are beautiful in their new nakedness: craggy bark, twiggy branches, thick roots that reach deep into the earth. There is a sour smell of leaves and damp dirt. In this pause before the season turns, the earth reveals its essence. The heart is quiet and turns toward home.

Back here in the human world, we are urged to rush, even pass over this in-between season. The turkey soup is barely gone and already the holiday season is upon us: Shopping! Lights! Carols! Noise! Across the street a plastic Santa grins at me from the balcony of a neighbor's house. The mailbox groans under its weight of catalogues. Already, today, the 29th of November - the first Christmas card arrives.

I am not ready to be merry. I run away into the woods, where a brown bird is singing on a bare branch. Its song is a simple one, just the same three notes in sequence, over and over. I stop and listen, grateful for this simplicity. A time of quiet, pause and hush. A time of contemplation. The simplicity of the song calms my ear. The brown of the trees quiets my eye. And in the sky, gray clouds. They are not dull but comforting, with rhythmic patterns of billow and break like surf on the sea.

In the church year we are entering the season called Advent. It is not about the count-down to Christmas. It is a season of waiting, reflection, and meditation on the mysteries of Time. It is a time to prepare the heart, humbly and quietly, for the joys to come. Its wisdom reminds us that there must first be darkness if we are to kindle light, and quiet if we are to hear music. It teaches us that true joy is born, as a child is born, out of a long period of waiting and quiet nurture.

I am ready ,now, to return to the noisy world, with its tinsel and forced gaiety. Now my heart is quiet. My soul makes its preparations. And in the woods, a brown bird sings on a bare branch.