When I get too wrapped up in my merely human concerns, all I need to do is to look outside my window or take a walk in the park to enter a different world, the world of birds that surround us everywhere. (In fact, I hear them chirping as I write this post). Here are a few of my favorite recent moments when I opened my eyes and ears to birds.
I pause by the lake at my Rockefeller State Park Preserve, and encounter a snow-white Great Egret at water’s edge. In my zeal to take grab my phone and snap a photo of the beautiful creature, am I (to paraphrase the philosopher Martin Buber), turning an “I-Thou” encounter, a direct meeting of souls, into an “I-It” moment of objectification? I strive to stay present in the moment.
Arriving at my favorite lakeside mediation spot at the park, I look down toward the shore and the sudden sight of a Great Blue Heron close by almost takes my breath away. His silvery wings echo the color of light rippling across the water’s surface. He walks slowly, slowly, gliding along gracefully by water’s edge, unafraid of my human intrusion in his domain. Being so near this majestic bird is an experience of sacred beauty.
Out for a jog, I look down at my feet, just in time to barely miss tripping over:
a duck family: Mama and eight little ducklings!
I watch how carefully she guards her young, and feel a commonality that transcends species, based on motherly love and care.
As I stand to pray on Shabbat in my daughter’s Minnesotta backyard, a bright red cardinal alights on the branches directly overheard and begins to chirp melodiously, combining his song with my own prayers. It feels like the prayer Nishmat Kol Chai נשמת כל חי from the Shabbat liturgy is coming to life: “The breath of all life praises Your Name!” As long as I keep praying, he persists in singing along with me. I didn’t get to take a photo, but here is one from a photographer and birder friend, Frank Becker:
Likewise, when I recently visited my childhood home in San Antonio, I also prayed in the backyard, in the shade of a now giant Live Oak that was planted during my teens. There was a chorus of doves all about, and one landed in the branch above as if to join me in my prayers.
Some days are simply overflowing with birds, as I noted in a my Spiritual Journal while living in California. You could call it Synchronicity, psychologist Carl Jung’s word for meaningful coincidences:
Journal Entry: New Year’s 2014
Sometimes I feel a sense of enchantment, of a wordless message, a welling up-the ineffable…yesterday it came in the form of birds. I lay back on the lawn, and that very second birds traversed high in the sky overhead. As I walked and ran in Bidwell Park, I saw a ruby-throated hummingbird on a miniature pomegranate bush, a red headed Flicker woodpecker, a pet peacock ambling down the road, a pheasant. I spotted yet more birds overhead: traversing ducks, circling vultures, all kinds of birds!
That night I dreamed of still more birds! I see them rising from a sea in my dream: penguins, a magical wine-colored bird, an eagle. Living on the corner of Baal Shem Tov street, I’m helping Hassidic children mix up some paste (I recognize upon awakening this is a symbolic reference to the spiritual practice of devekut דבקות being “stuck to” or clinging to, God.)
Mere coincidence that I found a feather stuck into a post in the park, like a talisman of devekut from the birds?
I also happened upon a video of Miyoko Shida Rigolo’s astounding feather balance dance.
Be open to birds, whose wordless teachings include grace, freedom, beauty, and balance. Have you had an interesting encounter with a bird? Please share in the comments below.
Featured image: Great Egret, JHD