Anyone who follows me on Instagram would tell you that my fascination with the birds, who have been nesting in my hanging front porch flowers this summer, is borderline obsessive insanity. They may even leave out the word “borderline.” It’s that bad.
I can’t stop watching them. The way they protect and care for their nest. The way they keep their post all day and all night long. The way they fly away when I open the front door, and sing from the treetop. Their patience. I sit with my coffee and rosary on the front porch, and marinate myself in awe and wonder. I whisper to them, “you are so faithful, birds,” and I even weep a bit when the babies leave the nest empty for me to find. I am never quite ready for that. It comes so quickly, it seems. The emptiness, that is. I look at the mama and think to myself, “all of that work, and your babies are gone.”
And before you write me off as completely nuts, hear me out for a moment.
Father Thomas Merton wrote about these sort of simple pleasures God freely gives. A starlit night, migrating birds, children playing and behaving as children, a toad that splashes into the water. All of these, when we are so lucky to take our eyes off of ourselves and place them on the miracles around us, Merton describes as
“the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the “newness”, the emptiness and the purity of vision that make themselves evident, provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.”
He says in a reflection in this month’s Magnificat,
“what is serious to people is often very trivial in the sight of God. What in God might appear to us as “play” is perhaps what he himself takes the most seriously.”
And I am most confident that God takes the birds in my hanging plants very, very seriously. I am most confident, the birds indeed, are not trivial in His sight; that they are a part of this cosmic dance.
Oh, how I love summer. Summer just has this beautiful way of slowing down the dance I try so hard to execute, and it allows me to play in the presence of the dance God always has at the ready; the dance He invites us all into. But it can be so easy to miss, this cosmic dance. There are too many things going on at too many times. And what the world screams important, is a never ending holler in our tired ears. And so while I scroll through images of friends vacationing on beautiful beaches and exotic islands, or dining beneath the Eiffel Tower, I can put all comparison and jealousy aside and simply be at peace with my coffee and birds, knowing that truly, it is the simple beauty right in front of me that most often brings me the most pleasure; the simple beauty that pleases God the most, as well.
Summertime creation is all around us, and free for the taking. Do we stop and rest and take notice? Do we accept the invitation to dance? That is the question we should ask ourselves, before the birds fly away, nests are left empty, and summer is gone. Have you danced with God this summer, or have you yet to notice the musical breezes, the warmth of the sun, His extended hand?
You know, we gathered our children and headed for Six Flags yesterday, because we can not afford a family beach vacation, and we were determined to create a family memory of some sort. It was a million degrees out and humid as can be, and then the downpour of rain hit, and my oldest son and I got soaked to the bone, and I can not say it was all that much fun. My son and I were separated from the rest because he did not feel well. And after one ride on the teacups, I personally was wishing we took the kids to a place that didn’t spin. We found cover under a tree on a damp bench. He held his head in his hands, and I played with the beads in my pocket. I had prayed fervently that morning for a joyful family experience. I had prayed hard for it to be a happy day together. This was important to me. But it was depressing and sad, to tell you the truth, and I wished to be anywhere but there on that bench, with my son feeling ill.
And as the rain continued to fall, something happened. A single sparrow hopped into my vision. And with its beak, I watched how it carefully made its way through the crowd, jumping over puddles, being careful to not get underfoot. Among the downpour of rain and amusement park humanity, this tiny bird was a welcome sight. It finally made its way to his destination: a dropped french fry. He playfully picked it up, turned around, and happily flew away with his prize. I looked at my son, who was not digging small talk whatsoever at that time, and really, it was best I stay silent, but I couldn’t help it. I shared this bubbling-up joy. I took a risk and spoke of the bird and the french fry. And for the first time in hours, a very real and honest smile emerged on his face. Not a huge smile, mind you, but his mouth didn’t look so tight anymore, at least. It relaxed and looked hopeful. For a moment, he nearly looked well. And quietly he shared, “I saw that, too.”
These summer birds. These beautiful creations of God. You see them, be it building their nest, or stealing a fry, and you can not help but smile. You can not help but feel joy, because the very moment we forget ourselves, we are reminded that there is so much more to this world than whatever it is we are currently preoccupied with. The moment we stop dancing with the world and its empty offers of happiness, and step into God’s cosmic dance, we can breathe easy.
I would like to think I am not insane or obsessed, but simply aware of summer’s gifts. It is good, you know, to forget yourself every once in a while. It is good, you know, to smile at the clever bird, who takes your mind off of the rain, who makes you feel well.
“…we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds, and join in the general dance.” – Father Thomas Merton, O.C.S.O.
Copyright 2017 Laura Phelps