Swifts: Durham, NC

I’ve attended two silent retreats in Durham. It is not hyperbole to report that the experience has been life changing; my self-awareness and faith deepened immeasurably during those reflective periods of quiet introspection and silent worship. One of the activities we joined in as participants were periods of quiet companionship. The leader of the retreat charmingly likened it to a family gathered in front of the hearth, each busy with their own activity and yet in peaceful fellowship with the others sitting nearby. One evening during this period, the leader stood and smiled and said, “Come with me.” We all exchanged perplexed and curious glances as we set down our writing pens, books and knitting needles to file outside into the grassy courtyard of the former convent where we were staying. It was late into dusk, that dim, sublime moment before nightfall with velvet blackness save for a tiny glow along the horizon. The leader pointed up without explanation. The sky teamed and swirled with a mass of activity. I thought they were bats…but they were birds: chimney swifts. Our eyes grew wide with wonder and then each person took up their place to observe the spectacle. I laid back into the grass, the fragrance and the slight itch a kiss from my childhood of summer nights playing outside with my brother. As I began to stare into the sky I became mesmerized by the undulations of the swifts. As I sank out into the balmy night air I felt immersed into a microscopic soup of plankton in a bead of ocean water. Around they swirled. Occasionally I could hear the slap and flap of a wing as they dipped and plunged through their mosquito feast. Organized…chaotic…reorganized. I sank deep into the universe as I watched. Then over the course of some minutes they tucked, one by one, into their chimney and we remained behind, awestruck with the empty sky.

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