Shifting Shadows And A Magpie

December 11, 2017 | Reflections from Sr Antonia

“Every good and perfect gift is from above
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like the shifting shadows.”

James 1: 17

I have been watching the shifting shadows as the sun silently makes its way across the sky. Most people, I presume, would be quite able to “explain” shadows; why and how they appear and disappear, why they can both fascinate and frighten. Yet, for me right now, I am thinking of shadows of a different kind from the shadows which are so readily accessible to those of us who are blessed with the gift of sight… shadows on my soul; shadows that require not eyesight but insight.

St. James tells us that God does not change like the shifting shadows change, and without a doubt I believe this. And so, when I feel as though a shadow is blocking the pure radiant light of God’s love toward me I need to look to myself and ask; what is this shadow?”

I wonder if self-deceit could be regarded as a shadow on our souls. Certainly it would block our capacity to see ourselves clearly, but… God’s light, as well, is blocked. This shadow of self-deceit is not as easily accessible to our insight as shadows are to our eyesight; its very nature is to hide itself. Yet Fr. Frederick Faber offers some clues. He tells us what to look for when he says that: self-deceit has the appearance of good; is sore when touched; antagonistic to God; refuses to take advice but always gives advice; complacent about its own fallibility; scrupulous and falsely humble. What a list! We need to be prepared to face it however, because the result of not doing so is spiritual blindness and we are deceiving ourselves.

“Lord that I may see” says the blind man to Jesus”. Perhaps that could be our prayer as well as we try to recognise the shadow on our souls.

As I was reflecting on all of this again later, a little messenger from God helped me to see shadows in a different light.

Fairly recently one of our sisters “adopted” a baby magpie which had been rejected by the mother. Maggie is her name and she has a little wing which is slightly damaged and which prevents her from flying. Maggie has become part of our monastic family, loves human company and feels very much at home. In other words, we love her! Some days ago, a sister was crouching down talking to Maggie when Maggie snuggled up close, closed her eyes and fell asleep. Immediately the image spoke of the words from the Palm: “In the shadow of your wings I take refuge” (Psalm 90). Shadows are not always sinister. God’s shadow shelters us from the storms of life if we are trusting enough to take refuge there, as Maggie was on this occasion.

It made me wonder about wings and shadows. What if we all had wings, the two wings of love of God and love of each other? If we were to have these two wings then perhaps, this Christmas, we might be able to shelter the Christ child the way Mary did, under the wings of her own faith and her trusting love; perhaps we could give birth to Christ in our own soul and in our broken world, today and every day.

May you be deeply, deeply blessed this Christmas, wherever you are, and may you give shelter to a Maggie, your very own Maggie, by allowing him or her to shelter in the shadow of your wings.

Mary and The Baby by Daniel Bonnell