From within the bramble and slick, spring mud
startled grouse thunder and wintered boughs break.

Even the falcon – that taloned wizard, that sky-feathered priest –
drops without comment between rough-needled spruce

and tries the branch that may not hold, as if to say
Look, there are many ways to pray

It’s spring in Alaska, when everything seems to be loosening. The dirt road is criss-crossed with braids of rushing water, and the ground, so recently like stone underfoot, now gives like a sponge. Trees are swelling and shifting, tufted with buds. Even the air, full of bird and breeze and gurgling sounds, feels full of change. It’s exciting, and disorienting. 

As I sloshed along in this humming disassembly, a sudden drum of thunder exploded in the woods to my left. While I whispered “grouse” (to calm myself), a branch snapped, as dry and abrupt as a gunshot. In the next moment, I realized the birds had gone silent. Everything seemed to be holding its breath, waiting.

Then I saw it: A falcon, medium-sized, its markings obscured by the flat light. It was simply a raptor, a sleek and feathered hunter scouting the valley. 

“Hello, gorgeous,” I heard myself say. “Come closer.” It did not, but circled within sight for several moments, riding the breeze, working its powerful wings, rising and falling over the tree tops. After a time, it seemed to make a decision. Something about its frame focused, becoming still, even as it flew. Then it dropped between two spruce, and was out of sight. 

As I walked on — the forest slowly loosening around me, again — I laughed at myself for speaking to the falcon… until I realized I hadn’t actually expected a response, but neither was I talking to myself. I had done something far more instinctual. I had uttered a prayer. 

I think that praying, no matter what faith or context, often looks like that: a greeting, sometimes followed by a request. Perhaps all prayers are just this, though no two look the same. I thought of the grouse, and the branch snapper in the suddenly silent forest. A prayer can look like flight. At other times, a breaking. Sometimes, it is silence.

Whatever its form, praying is a risky act. It requires its own kind of loosening, like a drop through the trees as we commit to the dive. Asking for what we need in prayer takes courage. But when we accept how little we truly control — and dive anyway — it can also be a powerful expression of sovereignty.

As I turned for home, slipping and sticking in the springy mud slurry, the entire mess of it became a moving, living prayer. Perhaps everything is, in a way. Loosening is an audacious, risky, sacred act. May we each find grace in what rises to meet it.

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