early bird

by bam

i am pulled into the darkness like a leaf in a river, tossing, drifting, not able to stop, really, the ride down the current.
i rise, though, tear off the sheets, kick out my legs, grope, nowadays wince at the argumentation coming up from the soles of my feet, the soles that don’t seem to agree with the notion of carrying the weight that descends as soon as i’m upright, moving forward, because i love nothing so much as the morning.
and not just any old slice of the morn. oh no, i mean the start of it, before the beginning, in fact. the dawn, by definition. the gauze-edged interlude between the depth of the night and the harsh of the day.
the re-awakening, once again, of the sky, and the trees, and the world all around. the slow peeling back of the layers of black, the reveal once again, of the seeping-in light.
i am, for the start of my vigil, mostly alone. house after house, out the window, is dark, is asleep. the moon, depending on the day of the month, and the depth of its shadow, is casting a glow, or is not.
but round about 6, round about the hour when the fingers of light are reaching, are stretching, beyond the horizon, papa comes.
papa is my cardinal, my red-feathered companion who makes do for the lack of a rooster.
he comes first to the highest of limbs. he surveys. he chirps in a series of short little bursts. that’s my cue to dig into the seed bin, to scoop up the sunflower, to march out to the place where the light is spilling, is washing, is dousing the start of the day.
“g’morning,” i call, and he does answer back.
since no one’s around, i can’t prove that he does. and you’re welcome to spy, or you can simply believe me, take my word, we converse, dear papa and i.
i dump his gruel for the morning, he offers his thanks by flapping right down. it’s gotten so cozy here in the morning, he doesn’t wait any longer for my feet to shuffle away. he’s darting down before i am back in the house. if i stand very still, if i say not a word, he’ll get on with the business of breakfast and pay me no mind.
it is some something, i’d say, to have a friend who joins you for dawn, except for the days when the rain is descending in buckets.
it is especially something when that friend is a true early bird.
he’s there, as am i, a good chunk of an hour before the choristers, the brown-cloaked sparrows, arrive.
and it all makes me think, as i keep watch on the flocks, on the comings and goings of singular scarlet and long rows of brown upon brown, as i take in the chirp of the red bird and the chatter of sparrow, that this all reminds me, very much, of matins, the morning prayer, the vigil, kept through the centuries in so many abbeys.
as long as there has been a church, and before that borrowing from the synagogue of jerusalem, believe it or not, there has been a particular order of prayer at the dawn. there were readings from the books of law, the singing of psalms and various prayers. there was a cantor and there was a chorus.
in early christianity, the prayers went all night, peaking just before dawn. it was all part of the nightwatch of the guards and the soldiers, either due to the secrecy of the nascent church meetings, or the notion that the middle of night was the hour par excellence, the time most likely to find God available for listening.
according to the fourth-century apostolic constitution, it was the prayer to be offered at cock-crow. the word itself, matins, is from the latin, meaning it is of or belonging to the morning. in the traditional monastery, it was the prayer to end at the sunrise.
now i am no scholar on medieval church. but i do find sublime the notion of the cloister, the far-off godly place, where the peeling of a potato, or a rope sandal slapping the stone walkway of the candlelit corridors, might be the only sound save for the matins and the evensong, and the gathering winds of the monks and the nuns filed in rows for back-and-forth chanting.
nothing so shivers my spine as the prayersong of monks rising like a mist from the pews of some abbey.
i feel the pull of the cloak of the quiet that blankets the whole of you as you close off the world, let click the great wooden door of the monastery, tiptoe in where the hallways are hallowed and hushed.
how sacred then, to wake up here in the very house that by day is so very bustling, to step out into the fog or the dew of the night lifting to morning, and be greeted first by the red-robed cantor, and, soon after, the ranks of the speckle-frocked sparrows.
it is my own matins that i keep. i whisper my thanks for the night and the day, and the great flash of scarlet there at the altar of seed. i keep watch on the coming of light. i step inside so the brothers and sisters all will descend as one winged chorus, make alive the limbs and the branches with all of their chirped incantations.
it is holy chatter they make. and i get to partake. because i, like the cardinal, am the earliest bird.

i know i’m a nut for the morning. are you too? what hour do you find most holy? what do you do to carve out a space upholstered only in quiet? any medieval scholars who can shine more light on matins?