This is without question the strangest “post” I have made in my life. But, for some reason (or irrational impulse), I “feel” it may speak to one of the few readers who bother to read my humble musings…. The underlying conviction is this: the Logos is everywhere, day to day pouring forth speech, without words. Or, to borrow from the hymn that underlies The Shire Theme (song) of The Lord of the Rings (This Is My Father’s World), “He speaks to me everywhere…”
Today (10/12/21), on my father’s birthday (he would have been 98 had he, as I certainly expected, survived us all), I pause to record a sketchy memory of a (now) lost journal entry regarding “birds”…
This silly pause is to take note of these little spirits that fly now almost unnoticed above and around us – and what brought them quietly to my attention a year or two ago:
One very early morning as I crossed the parking lot to my place of work – still in the greyness – and orange/blue light – of a breaking dawn: small birds flying above in synchronous groups – tweeting their little songs, then looking down to see what seemed like negative shadows of the same on the ground before me (just before I descended down the steps toward the crossing of the street); I can only remember noting the “question mark” of whether I saw them there or not – there was little contrast in the greyness before me… I think there was also the remembrance of the passage, “Consider the birds…”
Matthew 6:26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?
“Look” – the intensity is lost in translation:
behold, gaze up, look upon
From en and blepo; to look on, i.e. (relatively) to observe fixedly, or (absolutely) to discern clearly — behold, gaze up, look upon, (could) see.
[There seems so much simply and powerfully communicated just in the bare fact that Jesus does not quote some OT text to teach us about implicit trust in the Father’s care – but instead directs careful focused attention to the Word spoken in these tiny “angel” messengers – who by their very existence communicate God’s care and provision for these valued creatures, made on the 5th day of creation to fly across the vault of the sky – they alone being already “named” by God?]
Then, at some time close to this simple encounter, I was further amazed at God’s Word spoken from two sources: a book about Sundar Singh and another about the Gita:
I. scenes PARABLE the hungry birds
Once as I wandered in the mountains, I came upon an outcropping of rocks, and as I sat on the highest rock to rest and look out over the valley, I saw a nest in the branches of a tree. The young birds in the nest were crying noisily. Then I saw how the mother bird returned with food for her young ones. When they heard the sound of her wings and felt her presence nearby, they cried all the more loudly and opened their beaks wide. But after the mother bird fed them and flew away again, they were quiet. Climbing down to look more closely, I saw that the newly hatched birds had not yet opened their eyes. Without even being able to see their mother, they opened their beaks and begged for nourishment whenever she approached. These tiny birds did not say: “We will not open our beaks until we can see our mother clearly and also see what kind of food she offers. Perhaps it is not our mother at all but instead some dangerous enemy. And who knows if it is proper nourishment or some kind of poison that is being fed to us?” If they had reasoned thus, they would never have discovered the truth. Before they were even strong enough to open their eyes, they would have starved to death. But they held no such doubts about the presence and love of their mother, and so after a few days, they opened their eyes and rejoiced to see her with them. Day by day they grew stronger and developed into the form and likeness of the mother, and soon they were able to soar up into the freedom of the skies. We humans often think of ourselves as the greatest living beings, but do we not have something to learn from these common birds?
We often question the reality and the loving nature of God. But the Master has said: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Whenever we open our hearts to God, we receive spiritual nourishment and grow more and more into the likeness of God until we reach spiritual maturity. And once we open our spiritual eyes and see God’s presence, we find indescribable and unending bliss.
Candlelight flickers across the worn pages, and the Sanskrit characters dance rhythmically, like graceful maidens chanting ancient hymns. Transfixed, the young boy follows their motion, and his soul sings in unison with them:
A mass of radiance, glowing all around, I see thee, hard to look at, on every side; Glory of flaming fire and sun, immeasurable, without beginning, middle, or end of power. Infinite arms, whose eyes are the moon and sun, I see thee, whose face is flaming fire, burning the whole universe with thy radiance.
Quietly another voice enters the song. It is a gentle, beloved voice, calling him, calling “Sundar,” drawing him out of the chant, away from the dance. Slowly closing his inner eyes, he looks up into the candlelit face of his mother. “Come, Sundar! It is past midnight already. Soon it will be morning. You are only eight years old, my son. You must rest.” Obediently, reverently the boy returns the holy books to their place and seeks his mat. The candle flickers one last time and dies. Later he remembers: Although my family was Sikh, we had great reverence for the Hindu scriptures. My mother was a living example of the love of God and a devoted follower of Hindu teachings. Every day she awoke before dawn, prepared herself with the cold water of the ritual bath, and read either from the Bhagavad Gita or from one of the other sacred writings. Her pure life and her complete devotion influenced me more strongly than it did the other family members. From the time of my earliest memories, she impressed upon me one rule above all others: when I woke from sleep, my first duty was to pray to God for spiritual nourishment and blessings. Only then could I break the night’s fast. Sometimes I objected to this rule and insisted on having breakfast first, but my mother would never relent. Usually with coaxing, but when necessary with force, she impressed this rule deep onto my soul: Seek God first and only then turn to other things. At that time, I was too young to recognize the true value of this education, and I resisted her. Later, however, I came to appreciate her example. Whenever I think back now on her loving guidance, I cannot thank God enough for her. For she planted in me, and tended in my early life, a profound love and fear of God. She carried a great light within her, and her heart was the best spiritual training anyone could have: “You must not be careless and worldly,” she would say. “Seek peace of soul, and love God always. Someday you must give yourself fully to the search, you must follow the way of the sadhu.”
Singh, Sundar (2014-03-04T22:58:59). Wisdom of the Sadhu: Teachings of Sundar Singh . Plough Publishing House. Kindle Edition.
Imagine a vast hall in Anglo-Saxon England, not long after the passing of King Arthur. It is the dead of winter and a fierce snowstorm rages outside, but a great fire fills the space within the hall with warmth and light. Now and then, a sparrow darts in for refuge from the weather. It appears as if from nowhere, flits about joyfully in the light, and then disappears again, and where it comes from and where it goes next in that stormy darkness, we do not know.
Our lives are like that, suggests an old story in Bede’s medieval history of England. We spend our days in the familiar world of our five senses, but what lies beyond that, if anything, we have no idea. Those sparrows are hints of something more outside – a vast world, perhaps, waiting to be explored. But most of us are happy to stay where we are. We may even be a bit afraid to venture into the unknown. What would be the point, we wonder. Why should we leave the world we know?
Easwaran, Eknath. The Upanishads (Easwaran’s Classics of Indian Spirituality) (pp. 6-7). Nilgiri Press. Kindle Edition.
Finally, all of these memories were brought back to me just yesterday as I “heard a voice” (not audibly, but mentally) with uncommon clarity – directing me to go and retrieve the only book that I timidly place on my bookshelves with the spine facing backward (I’ve not read it in years). Why? I don’t want anyone to see this “obviously occult” book on my shelves (alongside other books about Christian theology and Scripture): “Meditations on the Tarot – A Journey into Christian Hermeticism”.
Retrieving the volume, I implicitly practice what I have come to know as “Bibliomancy” – i.e. opening a book (to which I have had some “promptings”) randomly to “divine” some direction from God – always about which I have already had certain intuitions – and which are further confirmed by these synchronicities. [I do not recommend or teach this practice to anyone. I just know that God has occasionally if not often “spoken” to me in this manner…]
Here is what I read (pgs. 270-271):
Yes. the world is full of implicit religion, and the inspired saints and
poets, who say that the birds “praise God” when they sing, are in no way mistaken. Because it is their tiny life itself which sings the “great life” and makes heard, through its countless variations, the same news which is as old as the world and new as the day: “Life lives and vibrates in me.” What homage to the source of life is expressed by these small streams of life: the birds which sing!
Religio nuturalis, natural religion, certainly exists and fills the world. Its waters emanate from the throne of God because — in filling beings, great and small, with the prodigious hope and faith which underlies vital elan —they cannot flow out from anywhere else other than the immediate presence of God. The cascades of hope and faith which arc revealed by the great “yes” that all living beings say, by the very fact that they are living and that they prefer life to death, these cascades cannot bear in themselves anything else other than certain testimony of the fundamental Presence of God, i.e. the meaning and purpose of being alive.
The waves of this testimony reach the unconscious nature of beings and take effect there as this prodigious conviction which underlies vital elan. The “primal revelation”, which is referred to by theology and to which natural religion is due, is the hope and faith, which vibrates both in the whole world and in each particular being (generally as a subconscious conviction), that life proceeds from a holy source, that it flows towards an end of supreme worth, and that it is “gift, benediction and vocation”.
The mystery of natural religion, which is at the same time that of vital elan,
is found expressed with remarkable clarity in the Apocalypse of St. John:
Before the throne there is as it were a sea of glass, like crystal. And round the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures,
each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all round and within,
and day and night they never cease to sing: Holy, holy, holy,
is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come!
(Revelation iv. 6-8)
This gives a tableau of the working of natural religion, and its structure and elements. It is the Presence which is reflected in the limpid sea “like crystal”, and it is Holy Animality, which never ceases to sing: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
The “sea of glass” is the eye of the whole of Nature for God; the four creatures “full of eyes all round and within”—what they are and what they do —represent the natural reaction to the divine Presence. Perception and reaction— here is the essence of the natural religion which fills the unconscious core of creatures and which manifests itself through vital elan. Because all that lives participates in the collective perception of the “sea of glass”, and in the collective reaction of the chorus: “Holy, holy. holy. . .”. for this participation’ is the Life of life and the source from which the Elan of vital elan springs forth.
The saying “Nature is fundamentally supernatural” is therefore profoundly true. For natural and supernatural life always originate from the same source. The source of all life is religion, conscious or unconscious, i.e. perception of the Presence and reaction to the Presence. In so far as my heart beats, that I breathe, that my blood circulates — in so far,
in other words, that faith and hope work in me —in so far do I take part, thereby, in the great cosmic ritual in which all beings participate, all the hierarchies from the Seraphim down to butterflies. . .namely, in natural religion’s “sacrament of baptism”, which is immersion in the waters of the “sea of glass”, and natural religion’s “sacrament of confirmation”, which takes place day and night through the chorus of choirs of animated Nature: “Holy, holy, holy. . .” All beings are baptised and confirmed in natural religion. Because, in so far as they live, they have faith and hope…
So – we do well to follow this simple but unsearchable admonition of our Creator, Saviour and Lord: gaze up intently and listen to these little “angels” today!