Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Morning Thanks--"Pigeon Feathers"

He's not sure. The burden of his life--he's just a kid--is that he is deeply religious but simply not sure, not totally with the program, even though he wants to be, he really really wants to be. He wants to have faith.

In most ways, his preacher is no help because when David talks to him the preacher says that having to believe all that mystery stuff--that there was a Jesus who actually rolled the stone away and walked out of the grave--isn't necessary to faith. The preacher is willing to buy so much unbelief that the boy isn't sure that either of them is right--his torture or his preacher's free spirit. 

David Kern is just a kid, a boy growing up, 13 years old, and he and his family have just recently moved to a new home when he reads H. G. Wells' interpretation of the life of Christ. Wells quite off-handedly claims Jesus was a Jewish aesthete who martyred himself and was resurrected only in fables created by his disciples' inability to go on without believing in him.

It's David's first crisis of faith, and John Updike catches his very tenuous belief memorably in a story titled "Pigeon Fathers."

David's mother asks him to get rid of some of the pigeons in the barn, so David takes the .22 rifle and does. Then, in the very last paragraph of the story, David buries the birds he just shot and finds what he's looking for.

He dug the hole, in a spot where there were no strawberry plants, before he studied the pigeons. He had never seen a bird this close before. The feathers were more wonderful than dog's hair, for each filament was shaped within the shape of the feather, and the feathers in turn were trimmed to fit a pattern that flowed without error across the bird's body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides as the feathers now broadened and stiffened to make an edge for flight, now softened and constricted to cup warmth around the mute flesh. And across the surface of the infinitely adjusted yet somehow effortless mechanics of the feathers played idle designs of color, no two alike, designs executed, it seemed, in a controlled rapture, with a joy that hung level in the air above and behind him. Yet these birds bred in the millions and were exterminated as pests. Into the fragrant open earth he dropped one broadly banded in slate shades of blue, and on top of it another, mottled all over in rhythms of lilac and gray. The next was almost wholly white, but for a salmon glaze at its throat. As he fitted the last two, still pliant, on the top, and stood up, crusty coverings were lifted from him, and with a feminine, slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever.

In Updike's inimitable prose, David finds sublime assurance in pigeon feathers.

I know the doves just outside my window are only cousins of the pigeons in David's barn, but they are related, and their colorings are just as magnificent really, just as much a blessing, a vision of God's own glory. 

This morning I'm thankful for a John Updike story and the feathers on the doves just outside.

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