IN HER MOST famous poem, “Not Waving but Drowning,” Stevie Smith offers an unsentimental vignette of standers-by on a beach watching a man drown. Is he waving to us or drowning? The title holds the dead swimmer’s response.
I recalled Smith’s line this fall when one image from the carpet-bombing of Gaza pinned itself to my memory. A girl’s hand in the rubble, waving around, trying to attract the attention of rescuers. We stand speechless before our own human brutality. We are all complicit in this supply chain of suffering.
Lent is a time of great silences. Silence can be duplicitous. Silence can be traumatic. Silence can be holy.
Last Lent, I was feeding owls on Good Friday at the raptor rehab center where I volunteer. Wings in flight across the mews are felt, not heard. A ripple of air. A slow shadow. The warning clack of a beak.
The prophet Isaiah names owls as one of the first to return after the Lord has laid waste to empires that God had found guilty of hoarding wealth and acting like there was no God. Isaiah describes the rubbled landscape: “They shall name it ‘No Kingdom There,’ and all its princes shall be nothing” (34:12). Owls are birds of desolation. In the half-light of the aviary, a great horned flicks its ears, stretches one wing, turns its yellow eyes to me.