Some Native Americans call this majestic bird Cetan-luta. Us Anglos who live in the Appalachian mountains call them red-tailed hawks. We had one who was the spiritual guardian of our church. I would sometimes see him perching on top of the cross on the spire of our building, or flying from treetop to treetop among the poplars and pines that grow on the mountain behind our church. Today, we lost our friend.
After worship this morning, one of my parishioners pulled me aside and quietly guided me to what was left of the body of a red-tailed hawk. He/she had obviously been eaten by a predator, but there is no way to tell whether he/she died first or was somehow caught by the predator. At least his/her body fed another living animal so it did not go to waste.
I had to leave church quickly but as I was driving away I thought about how I could honor our fallen comrade. In the midst of a number of options that ran through my head, a single, clear voice asked me “What would you do for a human who died?” The answer was obvious. I would bury this beautiful creature and say some prayers honoring his/her life. It was clear the Spirit has given me the direction I sought.
So this afternoon I donned some plastic disposable gloves, grabbed a shovel and carried the bird to the top of the hill that overlooks our church building. I let the Spirit guide me to the perfect spot and found some nice level ground that was nestled between a few trees. I dug a hole and buried our friend, placing a log I found nearby on top of his/her grave. I said my prayers of thanks as I lit a little homegrown sage and covered the grave with sacred smoke.
Then I went back to the church and circled it with the same same sacred smoke, saying the following prayer repeatedly, “Thank you for being our guardian. May you rest in peace.”
As I write this blog there are tears welling up in my eyes. My grief is deep. Red-tailed hawks have always been one of my favorite birds, along with crows. I feel a connection to these majestic creatures that is unexplainable but nonetheless real. I don’t know if we’ll have another guardian as beautiful as our Cetan-luta. But, today, I honored the gift that was given to our faith community in the presence of this hawk.
(In case you’re wondering I DID NOT take any of this bird’s feathers with me. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to possess them. Plus it simply didn’t feel right to do such a thing to our guardian and friend.)
Blessings, David T
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