There is something about the call of a bird from the peak of a mountain or the top branches of a tree or the heights of the sky that makes my soul cry out with longing. There is something in the sight of a bird soaring weightlessly above the ground, just beneath the clouds, or lightly across a sparkling river. There is something that I capture through these two senses of sight and hearing that brings knowledge of beauty. With beauty, I encounter a sensation of wonder which thrills me to my fingertips.
The great blue heron has a mocking voice that croaks across the river marked as his lair. His great wings suggest majesty and depth that I cannot otherwise comprehend but when I watch it soar through the sky, its wing span wide and its long legs stretch behind it.
The red-winged blackbird dances along the edges of a rush-lined riverbed. Among the pointed cattails and long-blade grasses is his home, a small nest made just beyond my sight. But I know it is there because the bird watches me, sending out its shrill little cry, mocking me with its sideways dance.
A chickadee sings its namesake from the treetops in early spring until late fall. Sometimes among the snow-capped fields you can see a flash of grey and black as it flutters its way around, searching for food. They can grasp a little black seed in their claws and peck at it until it opens in their tiny beaks.
Even seagulls have some sort of beauty about them. Not when they are screeching for food, nor when dropping warm, white bombshells over your head. Yet, there is a moment of exquisite beauty when these gulls catch an updraft of wind and are swept upwards in its current. There is beauty in these ugly birds as they soar effortlessly high above our heads.
Why does the flower hold its head proud and look so perfect?
Why does the tree flutter in the wind, send out perfect scents in spring when bedecked in flowers, and turn its leaves inside-out in the face of a storm?
Why does the meadow full of long wild grasses and flowers hold such beauty when the wind turns the lush sun-baked land into a green ocean of waves?
Why does the wind stir a strange longing in my heart, to see it and capture it, or to be swept upward as the birds, to soar and contemplate earth as it seems they do?
To contemplate beauty: this is something only humans can do.
So, why do I want to be a bird? Every time my senses fixate on the beauty of a flower, a tree, the wind…and most especially, a bird…my heart bleeds to contemplate this beauty…for it to never end. But it flutters, it changes; it soars beyond the reach of my sensations.
I used to look at a bird and long to be one. I used to think that if reincarnation existed, I’d want to be a bird. Then I thought that perhaps I’d just want to fly like a bird…because they seem closer to God when they reach the sky. I wanted to effortlessly soar above the troubles and suffering of this world; to escape loneliness and filth; to contemplate beauty from above.
I learned that animals are above plants because of consciousness, and that man is above the animals because of rationality. No matter how much we try and argue that animals are rational, we always lose. Indeed, they are smart in their own way. They can be trained and learn a great deal of interesting things. Some can learn how to act a little beyond what they are used to in order to get what they want. But they can never teach their young what their masters have taught them. They cannot teach their young to speak, to roll over, to be smarter than themselves.
I think this explains why I wanted to be a bird, and why the bird looked to be closest to God. Birds were created in order to croak and call, to flutter and soar, to crack open seeds and guard their nests. Birds were created to fly to great heights and look down effortlessly on the world beneath them. By doing these things, they are living according to their nature. They are fully what they were created to be. This is beautiful!
A flower that stretches its leaves to the sun, catches tiny dew drops on its delicate petals, dances in the gentle winds or strong storms is living according to its nature. And it, too, is beautiful!
Humans invent ideas for what they think they want. I want to be a bird. I want to fly. In reality, we want to experience the act of being according to our own nature. This is difficult for man because it requires the use of his rational capabilities: our intelligence and will. It requires freedom with responsibility. It expects him to be human.
If God lived in the sky, then yes, physically the bird would be closer to God than I could ever be. But God is not made of matter. He is pure Spirit. He gave man intelligence and will so that we could discover him through our reason. With our freedom, we could choose to come closer to our Creator and learn to love Him.
Perhaps we envy the birds, the wind, the beauty of the flowers and trees…because we have not yet learned how to use our spiritual capacities to the full. We were given these, and we have the means around us to learn how to use them…to educate ourselves. This requires some effort, and our society struggles with this. Why can we not be like a bird and soar above our sufferings?
Somewhere in our world we have lost the meaning of freedom. We were given freedom so we may soar. But freedom on its own is like a bird with one wing. It would be a flop, and objectively ugly! It would mill around, a pitiful creature. It would suffer from the kicks of inconsiderate bystanders, from the fattening food of pitying pedestrians, from the harsh elements around it. It would not be living according to its nature.
Responsibility is the second wing that we have been given. Many people believe this wing must be clipped, or entirely cut off. They prefer being a maimed bird with one wing, content with resting on the ground, not able to soar effortlessly above the world.
I say we need to discover this second wing, and how to use the first, in order to be content as human beings. To discover the beauty in our nature…unique in each individual, but created whole and beautiful. Then our souls will soar effortlessly above the sufferings and harshness of our material world. Then our souls will rest close to the heart of God, Who made us to soar above the peaks of the mountains and the crests of the clouds, in the heights of the sky. It is then that we will discover what it means to be fully human, and to rejoice in the beauty of human nature.
Books on this topic may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.
Photo by Flickr/ Cobalt123