by Jan Blencowe
The imagery of a nest fascinates me. Have you ever come upon a bird’s nest in the autumn when the trees are almost bare? Have you taken a moment to observe it or even hold it in your hand? They are marvels of construction, made from the most fragile materials, grasses, twigs, fur, sometimes bits of ribbon or scraps of frayed cloth and paper. Yet, many are amazingly sturdy. Carefully and expertly woven, they are the containers for the next generation of bird, so the species can continue and life will go on.
I have always dearly loved the story of the Celtic St. Kevin and the blackbird. While kneeling in prayer, deep in contemplation, arms outstretched and palms facing upwards towards heaven, waiting to receive what the Lord would bestow, a blackbird lands, and treating his hand as a nest, lays an egg there. St. Kevin with a patient and loving heart, neither closes his hand nor withdraws it, but remains still in prayer and contemplation until the egg is hatched.
Here in this tender story I find a picture of God’s care for us and a model for our care of creation. We see St. Kevin demonstrating the patient and loving heart of God towards us, extending a hand of mercy, compassion and provision that never closes and is never withdrawn. A hand that steadfastly remains open until we are fully formed and hatched. A hand that supports and shelters us like a nest until we hatch from this world into everlasting life and are transformed from an egg into the wholeness and completeness of who we are truly meant to be.
I think it is telling, that this story has a blackbird using St. Kevin’s hand as a nest and that he tirelessly remains, arms outstretched, sheltering and protecting the blackbird until the egg has hatched. In this I sense a deep message about our own roles as protectors and stewards of the natural world.
Nests while often sturdy, hold eggs which are fragile. Recently, in my wanderings among a thicket near the beach I came across the remains of a robin’s egg on the ground. It was the most impossible shade of delicate blue imaginable. These are the sorts of discoveries I like to record in my nature journals, so I sat down and made the entry with pen and paint. I wanted to inspect it more closely so I tried to pick it up but the vulnerable shell collapsed at even my lightest touch. Had St. Kevin closed his hand he easily could have crushed the egg and extinguished all possibility of life continuing.
God has placed the whole of his glorious creation within the hand of humanity and it is within our power to close our hand and destroy it. Practices like deforestation and strip mining, crush the possibility of life on a grand scale. Even the simple construction of residential developments and shopping centers are like a hand closing and crushing a place where life in the natural world could incubate, hatch and flourish. We all share this planet and certainly we human beings have needs for our own existence. Yet, after our use of the land, we withdraw our hand from nature and rarely think to spend any effort at restoration. Where we could replant, and recreate habitat around our homes, shopping malls, offices and schools we withdraw our hand and give no thought to how we could patiently and lovingly support the whole of creation that surrounds us. God is treating our hands as nests. He is trusting that we will neither close our hand and crush his creation nor withdraw our hand from supporting and protecting it.
I believe that if we remain in prayer and contemplation like St. Kevin we will see a vision of God placing the care and support of his creation in our hands. Then we will use our hands to shelter birds and wildlife, plant seeds, garden to create native plant communities and give thought to restoring the landscape after we have cleared and constructed on scales both large and small.
What fragile “egg” has God placed in your hand? What small part of the creation is within your reach? Will you close or withdraw your hand, or will you lovingly and patiently open your hand and tend the earth given into your care? By designating us stewards of the earth, God demonstrates and amazing amount of trust in us to follow St. Kevin’s example to remain gentle, open and actively involved in supporting life on the planet, as well as the planet itself. May we all seek ways to follow that example so our hands become nests where life can flourish.
Jan Blencowe earned her BFA in 1984 from Caldwell College. She has enjoyed a long career as a successful landscape painter, but her most profound joy is keeping a personal sketchbook of her life experiences. The boldness of an ink line on paper and the use of free flowing water media allow her to engage life’s moments both great and small with gratitude, and presence. Her deepest connection is with the natural world and she makes a regular practice of sketching the ongoing drama of life that unfolds at the beaver pond on her property in Clinton, Connecticut, and throughout New England’s woods and marshes. Her nature journal sketches are featured in several books on sketching outdoors and in interdisciplinary science curriculums.
Her sketching and nature journaling can be found at: Jan Blencowe Sketchbook.