Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"...and the swallow a nest..."

How lovely is thy dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My spirit longs and pines
for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my flesh give a shout of joy
for the living God!

Even the wren has found a house,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may put her young.
Even thine altars, O Lord of hosts,
my king, and my God.

Psalm 84: 1-3

The psalmist is singing about his delight in the enormous and beautifully decorated temple in Jerusalem - God's house containing the Ark of the Covenant on Mount Zion. When we go to one of these great American warehouse stores today, containing over a million products (the thingdom come!) often we see and hear noisy sparrows that have somehow gotten in and made themselves at home. The temple in Jerusalem had many openings and apparently swallows built mud-nests against the high walls near the altars where they raised their families.

The psalm-singer isn't giving us a bird study or trying to charm us, but giving an image of the soul - joyfully delighting in God, finding security in God, taking pleasure in being near God, entrusting to God what's most precious to us. 

As a boy growing up on Long Island in the 1950's and early 60's, I recall my father taking me one Sunday afternoon for a drive out east along the Sunrise Highway and our visiting the small the wooden churches each village had, some time before the population explosion which required the building of new mega-churches. The churches were all dark, except for the vigil lights which still burned after the last Mass: the smell of wax and the moment when the flame jumped from the wooden stick to the wick of the candle in the blue or red glass, the little glow at the end of the stick after it was blown out, the whiff of smoke and then the silent prayer which acknowledged an invisible world. "...even my flesh gives a shout of joy..." All sufficiently soul-impacting that it's easily and clearly remembered more than a half century later.

In a book length interview Pope Benedict shared that on the day of his ordination to the priesthood, upon returning to his sanctuary seat after the bishop ordained him, a lark flew into the cathedral and sang and sang from the rafters above. The pope didn't make too much of it, but he did say it seemed to be a lovely sign, "You're on the right track." 

I imagine everyone has some memory of experiencing a particular joy and pleasure in God. We might take a few moments to gratefully acknowledge and ponder it.


  1. I remember growing up on Long Island. We were blessed.

    1. I grew up in North Bellmore on the South Shore. My home parish is Saint Raphael in East Meadow. My First Communion was in the old L-shaped brick church. My parents are buried in Holy Rood Cemetery on Old Country Road. Isn't that a lovely name for a road? Two lanes when I was a boy, one east, one west. When my mother was buried there in 1991 I had to shout the prayers at the grave because the noise of the traffic on the now 4 lanes (6 lanes??? who knows) made it impossible to be heard. There's a statue of Ben Franklin nearby next to what used to be the Franklin National Bank. There are still some scruffy pine trees next to the statue that I remember as a young boy.

  2. I very much appreciate when you explain something that we might not know. For example, in this post you shed light on a psalm. The meaning of some biblical readings escape my understanding so I am happy to have this interpretation.

    1. Reading the scriptures slowly and stopping along the way to consider even one turn it over and over. This is good prayer. Monks call it "Lectio Divina". No hurry.

  3. I can smell the candle wax and the smoke from the matches as memories come flooding back. And now, in many churches, a button is pushed and an electric 'candle' goes on. Isn't that a shame? I miss those days.

  4. Eastern Christians light candles every time they come into their churches. I don't know how they've managed to keep that practice so alive. An electric candle would be unthinkable. Let's at least keep the real flame of faith alive in our hearts. That we can do - it cannot be outlawed by insurance companies or fire departments or taken away.

    1. A beautiful thought; to keep a flame in our heart. No, no one can take that away from us. But still, I like to search out churches with real candles.

  5. Thank you for sharing your memory and encouraging us to do the same. I feel blessed to know I can look back on joyful times when I felt the presence of God in my life. I do hope to find it again.