Sunday, 4 March 2012
Yesterday I was given, quite literally, a flash of consolation and inspiration. Let me share it - but first, a confession. I had never, despite my love of nature and of paying attention, seen a kingfisher - until yesterday. After a rainy start the day grew warm and bright; at the end of the morning the dog and I went for our usual walk in the meadow by the Hogsmill. As we entered we met a couple leaving, and something in their manner drew my attention. They were smiling and talking excitedly, and I caught the word "kingfisher". "Yes, we've seen one!" they said when I asked. The woman told me where, pointing to the trees, and said she had seen him there once before. The man suggested the direction I might walk in along the river and advised me to look low, above the water. He warned me of the bird's elusiveness but encouraged me that if I caught a glimpse I couldn't mistake the vibrant colours for anything else.
So off they went, and I walked down to the river, keeping my gaze on the low branches over the water as I'd been advised. The sunlight was warm, and puffs of March wind brought the sound of church-bells. I walked and watched, hardly daring to hope (telling myself that if I didn't see him today at least I'd met people who had), and then there he was. For an instant, a blaze of blue and orange; then again on another branch; then gone from my sight. So tiny and iridescent! Now I know exactly why Hopkins said kingfishers "catch fire." My heart caught fire too. A moment out of time, and a moment of pure joy.
Afterwards, I thought with gratitude of the couple who had spoken with me and encouraged me to look for the kingfisher. It struck me much later that the gift they'd given me was something like spiritual direction:
I was drawn by their enthusiasm and joy.
They shared their experience, and that gave me hope.
They suggested where and how to look, and what to look for.
They encouraged me.
I went to look for myself.
What a lesson!
Here is a well-known kingfisher poem by Anne Lewin, which has gained new meaning for me:
Prayer is like watching for the
Kingfisher. All you can do is
Be where he is likely to appear, and
Often, nothing much happens;
There is space, silence and
No visible sign, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again.
Seeing or not seeing cease to matter,
You have been prepared.
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
PS I'd love to know if a kingfisher appears in any of the Hogsmill paintings of Millais or Holman Hunt. The nearest I could find was the one above, by John Ruskin.