I believe in the power of contemplation, that it can enlighten a mind and put a troubled soul at rest. My original intent with this blog was to reflect on one of my favorite passages by Thomas Merton:
“When no one listens to the quiet trees,
When no one notices the sun in the pool
When no one feels the first drop of rain
Or sees the last star
Or hails the first morning of a giant world
Where peace begins and rages end:
One bird sits still watching the work of God …”
I read those words every Tuesday morning in Thomas Merton’s A Book of Hours assembled and edited by Kathleen Deignan. Each time I read it, I listen. Those words have inspired me to renounce television for all practical purposes. Each evening, my wife and I sit outside and wait for the first star, then the second and the third … such beauty and grandeur, and we are actually a part of it.
I am lucky: I have always lived in places where birds announce the beginning of each day and where the conscious listener can hear it without effort …
Charles Lindbergh is best known as the first person to fly non-stop from New York to Paris in a single-engine airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, flying solo, alone. That is a fact that every kid knew growing up in the 50’s and 60’s but that – sadly – few know or care to know today.
Looking back on his accomplishment, Lindbergh commented, “I was astonished at the effect my successful landing in France had on the nations of the world. To me, it was like a match lighting a bonfire.” Nearly 40 years later, the aging hero went on a safari in Kenya with Ian Grimwood, the country’s chief game warden. The time in Africa gave Lindbergh pause to look back on his life. When he reflected on the Kenya experience, Lindbergh remarked, “Lying under an acacia tree with the sounds of the dawn around me, I realized more clearly facts that man should never overlook: that the construction of an airplane, for instance, is simple when compared to the evolutionary achievement of a bird; that airplanes depend upon an advanced civilization, and that where civilization is most advanced, few birds exist. I realized that if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”
Quite a powerful and revealing statement from a man whose 33 ½-hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1927 accelerated the development of aviation around the globe. Read that again:
“… if I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes.”
Those words are prominently displayed near the end of the magnificent Lindbergh exhibition at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis’s Forest Park.
But as I think on those word from two very diverse individuals – one a religious and the other an aviator – I ponder what a person who lives in New York City hears in that magical moment when dark turns to light … I believe the person in the heavily populated metropolitan area hears ‘advanced civilization,’ and because of it, he hears no birds even if they are there. I do agree with Lindbergh; you may not … I would rather have birds.
In our fast-paced lives, we are far more touched by advanced civilization than the natural wonders it has replaced. Just consider how many people, particularly young people feel lost unless their arms are attached to their ears with cell phones; or who can’t sit still without staring at a small screen to text message, or maybe watch a movie or play a game. There are three ‘bird days’ that I am aware of, and they have all occurred in 2011, two in May and one in January (National Bird Day). To me, every day is bird day, and I will sit with the one and watch the work of God. Please join me.