Sunday, May 25, 2014
Free as a Bird?
Wouldn't you like to be free as a bird?
I wonder where that expression came from. As I write this, we are watching one of those BBC nature videos. The erudite voice of some distinguished British gentleman is telling everyone about the glorious life of animals, which basically consists in sleeping, seeking food, mating, and avoiding predators. And it is a wonderful thing, in its own way, the multitude of diverse ways in which animals all over the world -- in all their many colors and shapes and sizes -- use their remarkable instincts to seek food, to mate, and to avoid predators; in a word, to live. But it takes a bit of the romance out of my lonely black bird. There is surely much poetry in his sturdy vigil, perched atop a fence post. All the splendor and spontaneity of his instincts are focused on the task of living. For him it means spying the worm, the grub, tending the nest, avoiding the cat.
But he is not free.
He is bound to this labor. He comes forth from his shell, struggles into flight, searches for food, perpetuates his species without even knowing what he is, searches for more food, and one day dies. But the whole sky is full of birds. Flocks of birds in full flight. They give no thought to their freedom, or their burdens.
It is we who find the image of freedom in their flight.
It is we who are melancholy at the recognition of their passing lives.
The animals, in their unreflected innocence, remind us that the whole world is passing away. And perhaps too, there is an echo in animal life of the sadness at the heart of creation, a sadness that reflects something irretrievably lost.
Yet we do not get caught up in the mourning of this loss. Our gaze upon the natural world and our poetry are full of hope. We yearn for the freedom of the birds. We watch them in flight and we sense the promise of freedom. For the eager longing of creation awaits the revelation of the children of God. There is another mystery at work at the heart of creation, and it whispers in our hearts a restlessness, an expectation, a promise.
The birds will return to the earth and be joined to it. And one day, the earth will be transformed. The mystery of this is hidden from us.
But we will fly. We will be free.