Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Meeting God on my Bird Perch

Many of us delight in seeing the birds in our gardens. Sometimes they fly into the house. In the W. Indies I was fascinated by the brightly coloured humming birds, beating their wings so rapidly. And as I raised my eyes I was struck by the grace of the gliding chicken hawks.

In England I used to work at Spode Conference Centre in Staffordshire. That was in the countryside. My room was on the second floor, and overlooked fields, and beyond them, woodland. To attract the birds I made a perch, which I attached to my windowsill. On this I placed scraps from our meals.

To my delight birds started to visit my perch. At first the common, bolder ones –sparrows, robins and various kinds of tits. As they grew in confidence some would fly into my room, settle on my table and then fly out. But, to my great excitement, male and female greater spotted woodpeckers, as well as nuthatches, would occasionally come for food. My neighbour, a fellow Dominican even had a kestrel visit his table. There was great rivalry between us, as to who could attract the most exotic bird. But they were all beautiful to watch, and I spent far too long doing so!

But watching these feathered visitors taught me several important lessons about how I should react to the physical world in which we all live. I could frankly admire its beauty and goodness. I could and should thank and praise God, the creator of heaven and earth. Each of his creatures reflects something of his glory, simply by being itself.

But then I began to reflect on the freedom of the birds. They could come and go, each living its own special kind of life, without being restricted by me. And I could enjoy seeing them without needing to possess them in a cage. I could have had a caged bird, which I could see and hear whenever I wanted. That does provide a cheerful kind of companionship for some people, which I do not despise.

But I would have lost the element of joy and surprise at wild birds coming unexpectedly to feed on my table. And their being caged would not only have restricted their freedom, but mine. I would have needed to make provision for their care in my absence. But I did not own the birds, nor they me. While benefiting from coming together we preserved our independence. They could spread their wings and fly away, and I could go about my own business. A good arrangement!

This tells me something about the meaning of being poor in spirit and what should be our attitude to the material, physical things of this world. Certainly we should appreciate their beauty and goodness. That is true of people’s physical beauty. It’s not a sin to recognise that. And we can welcome good food and drink. As we do so, we should thank God for these gifts, which all add to the joy of life.

But this can get out of proportion when we become obsessed and possessed by the physical world. When we want to amass possessions, many of which we don’t need. They can so easily take over our lives. We give them an attention and importance they don’t deserve. That limits our freedom to focus our minds and hearts on God, who alone can satisfy our deepest longings for goodness and beauty.

I’m grateful to the birds, which visited my table. They revealed to me something of the glory of God, shown in his creatures, and helped me to enjoy it without becoming obsessed or possessed by it. I discovered that freedom by allowing the birds to be free.

Isidore O.P.

Next week Isidore will meet God in a hospital ward.

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