See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the song of doves is heard in our land (Song of Songs 2:11-12).
Have you heard the chorus of birds in the early morning? I have been enjoying their splendid melodies. You have to rise very early, just before dawn, to really hear the full effect. I love to listen to the birds, but honestly, their song often becomes like white noise in the background. I seldom stop to really pay attention and listen. However, over the past few weeks, I have been more attentive to their sound. What I hear amazes me. It’s a beautiful song, filled with many different notes, rhythms and trills. But rather than forming a chaotic menagerie of sound, this early morning chorus flows like the melody of an intricate symphony. The creativity of God never ceases to amaze me. Beneath the trills, high notes and excited chatter of this chorus, there runs the haunting melody of the mourning dove. The soft coo of the mourning dove serves as a soothing rhythm that seems to keep time with the beat of my heart at rest.
I love the mourning doves. They are among my most favorite birds, second only to the striking color and song of the Baltimore oriole, whose return I await with the warmth of summer. Birds have always had a special place in my life. My parents created a large feeder station in our backyard, which attracted many species of birds to delight eyes and ears. My mom and dad gave me a bird book and I quickly learned to identify them by name and spout many details about their migratory patterns.
When my dad died five years ago, it seemed that I was surrounded by bird encounters of every kind. Injured birds just showed up in my driveway; got stuck in the garage. These encounters with the birds delighted me and helped to heal the sorrow in my soul. But one experience I had with the mourning doves stands out in my mind.
I suppose the mourning doves were always in my yard, but they seemed so much more present after Dad died. Every morning, as I took to the porch to pray, a single dove would take his perch very near to me on the wire or in the pine tree adjacent to the porch. I felt like this dove was sent as a message from my dad, reminding me that he was in heaven praying for me and my family. On one particular morning, I was tearfully pouring out my sorrows to the Lord and the cooing of the morning dove seemed to echo my laments. The dove even tilted his head, seemingly watching over me. I looked directly at the bird and said, “Dad, I feel like this dove is a sign from the Lord and you to remind me that indeed you are with me in spirit and that you continue to pray for all I need. But today my heart is broken and I need a big sign that this is true. If I am right about this dove, then send the dove to sit next to me on the porch as I pray.”
As if by heavenly command, the mourning dove, with the wind whistling through its wings, swooped down to the porch and perched on the chair next to mine. I sat frozen, staring in disbelief at this beautiful sentinel from heaven. For that moment, our eyes met, and I knew beyond all doubt, that this mourning dove was a sign that my earthly and my heavenly Father heard my every prayer.
Ever since that little miracle on the porch, I am very aware of the mourning doves that call make their home in my yard. These past few weeks, as I focused on listening intently to the early morning chorus, the mourning dove’s lament almost seemed a contrast to the chatter of the symphony. Their gentle drone soothed the grief I felt in my soul.
Grief is one emotion that is often times pushed aside in our society. Among Christians, many people mistakenly believe that we must dismiss grief. We are called to dismiss anxiety so as to rejoice (Philippians 4), but there is certainly a time and a place for grief. In fact, in Jesus’ parting words to his disciples, he promises all of us that we will grieve in this world.
“Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy” (John 16:20-22).
Grief makes us vulnerable and no one is immune to it. Over these past 17 years, in and out of hospitals with my youngest daughter, I have seen many children die. Too many of my friends have lost their children to disease and to tragic accidents. Their faith is strong; the grief is real and it never quite goes away. They say time heals all wounds. But grief is different. The stages of grief are well studied and documented. But coming to acceptance of a loss doesn’t mean the grief goes away; you just learn how to live in peace with the loss.
Grief is not just about the loss of a person through death. We can grieve the loss of a relationship, or the loss of a dream. Last week, I was struck with emotions of grief as the doctor showed me my daughter’s most recent MRI. Though the report was better than a month ago, it still showed us that she is in a losing battle with these malformations in her brain. Realizing that I am powerless over this disease struck a chord of grief in my soul. But the song of the mourning dove helped. As I listened intently to the early morning chorus of birds, the mourning dove’s lament flowed through this symphony like a carefully orchestrated harmony. Like the low notes of an oboe, clarinet or bass, the song of the dove added depth to this intricate melody.
We all live with stages of grief, at various times in our lives. As a nation we grieve: for the victims of terrorism and crime, for economic hardship and the lack of respect for human life. Scripture tells us that God’s heart grieves for the pains of His people. The closer we come to the Lord, the more we feel His heart full of love and mercy and also at times, grief. I believe that rather than trying to cover it up with busy tasks, digital distractions or substances which harm us, we should endeavor to let it play out.
Grief is not to overwhelm us, for the “joy of the Lord is strength.”
Listen to the music of your soul; let the high notes ring and the low notes hold their place. Jesus promises us that our grief will one day be transformed into rejoicing. If we allow God’s love to enlighten our grief, transformation happens in time. The winter passes as spring appears and the song of the dove is heard in our land.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.