Story, Value, and Becoming More Real
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Sing, Madrigal!

June 17, 2024

Denise Stair-Armstrong

Madrigal was a little blackbird. She had a nondescript, yellow-orange beak that was neither too long, nor too short; in fact, there was nothing particularly special about it. Her plumage was not unique either, being a definite black that on a good day, and at the right angle, would flash iridescent when it caught the sun, though for the briefest of moments. 

But Madrigal had learned early from her Father to love the morning, rehearsing the earth’s very first moments.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness.” (Genesis 1:1-4 NKJV)‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

So every day, since she knew herself, Madrigal would rise to her lookout place on the edge of night and wait for the dawn. She loved being the first up, holding a draught of the departing night-chill in her small lungs, awaiting the first stirring of the leaves at the tip-top of the trees. Her tiny heart thrilled as the gentle morning thermals arrived, hovering for a while to alert everything and everyone with a loving whisper, “HE is about to do it again!” 

Morning Breaking

The dark grey sheets atop the hill would begin to fluff and color, ever so subtly—lighter greys yielding to peachy creams, dusty roses, golden glories, flaming oranges, and, at times, even fantastic fuchsias—all artfully spread by the Master’s brush, as He lavished a new day on the waking earth, in obedience to the Father. 

Then came the moment when, finally, the flaming, life-giving orb spoken into existence by the Father on the fourth day of creation would break forth! Madrigal would have to grip the edge of her perch with her slender claws to avoid being bowled over by the wonder of the rising sun! Only then, with uplifted head and eyes bright with morning light, would she release her breath as a deep sigh, calming herself and shaking her head in amazement. 

As she opened her wings and let the rising warmth fill the spaces of her small pinions, Madrigal marveled at the uniqueness of each dawn. Sufficiently dried, she would ruffle and relax her feathers back into place and return to her ordinary day. “No two ever alike—” she would twitter to herself and to anyone nearby. 

Though always left with this sense of wonder and worship, Madrigal often felt a sense of incompleteness. Was she created to be just a witness to the wonder? Or was she missing something? She sensed that there had to be more for her—even for a small blackbird with big round eyes who loved to drink in the rising dawn. 

One morning, as the sun was about to make its grand entrance at the Master’s gesture, Madrigal, on cue, let out her sigh. But this time it came out as more than silent breath. It made a noise! It was a small but distinctly sweet and piercing trill that musically announced the sun. She could feel the Father’s pleasure as the tune exited her yellow-orange beak, lingered on the morning air, and wafted through the canopy, serenading the Creator’s handiwork. 

So she opened wide and sang the more, then and each morning that followed after that. Now more purposeful in her waiting, she studied the colors of the dawn and learned, from the choreographed clouds against the patient sky, how to worship. Then, oblivious of all else, she would sing their hue in praise to the Maker, until the sun’s burst would jolt her with its bright rays and send her soaring into her day’s other duties. 

Lost Song, Lost Light 

As Madrigal grew she became busier with both duties and pleasures. Many other birds filled her part of the forest canopy, and her simple song next to theirs suddenly began to seem old, dull, and unnecessary to her. She listened, becoming increasingly intimidated by the trilling and twittering that now flooded the morning as flocks on the wing careened into each new day. Madrigal strove to keep up but soon began to swallow her song, and eventually returned to sighing. She reasoned that the Father must gain more pleasure from everyone else’s song as they seemed so much better than hers. 

Even worse, Madrigal began to neglect her lookout place. She stopped waiting each morning to behold the new day that the Father sent.

The parting black drapery of night; the glory unfolding from the Master’s brush against the placid grey-blue canvas of the sky; the hush of creation, and the wafting presence of the hovering morning breeze: all went unnoticed as she hustled in the hedgerow or lingered, worn, in the damp of tangled shrubbery. 

Then one dark day before morning, a frighteningly loud and terrible noise shot the tender air full of fear in Madrigal’s part of the world. Mankind had entered into armed conflict. Soon, more than the air was torn asunder. Bombs and tanks churned up the landscape. Missiles and bullets ripped through the forest, uprooting trees and destroying canopies. All the woodland creatures that could, fled. Those who could burrow tried to hide beneath the earth, and those who could not ran as far away from the strife as they could, seeking refuge in the hills.

The birds were the first to simply fly away. But the little blackbird, Madrigal, decided to stay as she noticed the plight of those who could not journey to safer places in the mountain crags. “Why do you not fly away too?” they asked her, as she helped them locate hiding places among the fallen trees and propped-up boulders. 

“And who will be here to sing when the good times return?” she chirped encouragingly to the old, the weak, the disabled, orphaned and abandoned ones. She knew the Father watched over every creature, even the tiniest sparrow. Even if they fell in the wake of mankind’s strife, she was confident that the Father’s eyes would see where, and would tend them as only He knows to do with fallen sparrows. So, as she helped them, Madrigal began to hum. Between the rumble and rubble of bomb blasts her quiet tunes began to fill the spaces with hope. 

“Up, Where You Belong”—The Call

Daily Madrigal foraged for provisions and shared with the fearful hiding creatures, and often, when she happened to look up, she noticed her neglected lookout place. She longed to get back there, where she felt she really belonged. Nervously testing the air that still trembled with the sporadic noise of mankind’s strife, she watched, wondering if she would ever find the courage to mount up again. Then one day, she heard the Father’s voice, unmistakably calling, “Sing, Madrigal!” He was beckoning her to the lookout place. 

“Sing, Madrigal! Sing!” came the call again. 

So, trembling and shaking off old damp down, Madrigal spread her pinions and rose, buoyed by the faithful hovering breeze wafting through the battered forest. Her small body perfectly alighted on her perch. Raised above the fume- and smoke-tainted air, Madrigal filled her lungs, lifted her simple beak to the promise of the gilding clouds above the hills, strengthened her grip, and sang her song. 

Above the saddened morning of destruction below, her tune rang out clear. Those huddled in the burrows heard it, and courage to emerge filled their hearts. Carried on the wind, word of the Father’s promise crossed the troubled land, echoing in the hills. Others picked up the tune, passing it from forest refuge to hollows deep and craggy sanctuaries, evicting despair even where war raged on.

And so it was that each day, summer or winter, springtime or fall, whether other birds returned and joined the song or not, Madrigal knew where she belonged and why. The sweet song written in fresh hues each morning was hers to await, savor, and sing, even in the worst of times. No other bird of sharper or bigger beak, of brighter or duller plumage, of louder or fancier trill, could sing it for her. For this the Father had formed her, taught her, and called her by name. Now each morning she would be there to watch, listen and declare—and she still does to this day. 

If you don’t believe me, listen, early in the morning wherever you are in the world. Carried on the hovering morning breeze, Madrigal’s song courageously proclaims the Father’s promise with each new day’s rising.

Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, [and sing!] for these words are true and faithful.’” (Revelation 21:5 NKJV) (parenthetical phrase mine)‬

Author’s ‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬Note:

How the Story Came

I learned through this writing that you may not know, as a writer, what has you “on the boil,” as C.S. Lewis put it, when you engage your craft. Charged to write of courage this issue, I groped for inspiration, doubtful of what could emerge. My initial thoughts were marked—virtually numbed now—by the contradiction between life in a picturesque German village, with blackbirds singing away each morning, and the jarring, real-world tragedy of a terrible war broken out in Eastern Europe, which had sent planes taking off at all hours from the nearby airbase and floods of grieving refugees fleeing our way. 

Standing by the French doors that each day afforded me full view of the sunrise over the hills, I had come to notice the habit of individual blackbirds to perch on the peak of my closest neighbor’s roof, as if waiting like me to see how gorgeous the dawn would be that day, and to sing their songs. I had also been surprised to note how sweet a song these rather plain but busy little birds trilled out each day. So it was not surprising that the phrase “Sing, Madrigal,” filled my mind as my eyes lighted on that day’s little sentinel the morning that I knew I was to write. 

Two weeks in, I came awake with the lines of stanzas from a song I remembered singing in high school assembly devotions in my native land, Kingston, Jamaica: 

Morning has broken / like the first morning. / Blackbird has spoken like the first bird. / … Mine is the sunrise! / Mine is the morning, / Born of the one light Eden saw play. / Praise with elation, / praise every morning. / God’s recreation / of the new day. 

As the lines flooded my waking thoughts, I saw how the pictures they had painted decades ago now provided images for this writing, having waited there these several decades. Rejoicing in what I received as God’s affirmation, I completed the story that day.

 I submitted the piece and was not surprised to have one of our editing team ask whether the story had been influenced by that very song. As a teenager I had never learned the hymn writer’s name, but I was glad now to tell how God used the beautiful lyrics, hidden in my memory, to help paint the story of courage hidden in the blackbirds’ song at dawn. 

The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used with her kind permission for Cultivating.


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