I heard a bird chirping today. I actually stopped for a brief moment and listened. It was a good sound, and a good sign. Sign of what? A sign, I believe, of freedom. Yes, freedom from self-absorption.
Our cell-phone society confines our internet identities to the rat mazes of our own making. Phone calls, meetings, appointments, tasks, chores, and the rest all keep our hearts and minds constantly turned inward onto ourselves, our worries, our responsibilities. I am as guilty as any. But those whose ears are still attuned to Nature’s subtle whispers, those who hear the singing of the morning bird, the trickling of the melting brook, or the rustling of the autumn leaves; and those whose memories are tickled by the crisp scent of the encroaching winter air or the fresh smells of spring’s blossoming bouquet — these blessed ones inhabit, I believe, a much larger universe than the rest. Does our inattentiveness to nature’s mysticism reflect the extent of our domesticated, self-absorption?
I remember climbing on the roof as a teenager, and marveling at the “awesomeness” (if this word has any meaning left) of a clear, starry night sky. I would take occasional walks around the block and let my thoughts dialogue with the divine. I knew very little about ‘churchy prayers’ back then (“Dear Heavenly Father…blah blah blah…Amen”); but I knew at a gut level that in those moments I was encountering ‘something’ far greater than myself, and that ‘something’ would soon become a Someone. In those rare moments of “extro-spection”, of looking outward, I first tasted that sweetness that would keep me longing for more. (C. S. Lewis named this longing, “Joy”.)
You see, I was still immature enough to find pleasure and amazement in “things out there.” I still felt the utter “smallness” that one should feel under that vast canopy of the heavens. I still longed for a sense of the Transcendent. I still had an curiosity and a respectful fear for the Great Unknown. More importantly, I still knew I was merely a tiny speck, spinning around on a planet that itself was orbiting the still greater Son and Light at the center of it all.
Well, I believe that our culture is growing dangerously urbanized and domesticated. I’m not speaking literally now. (If we all left the city and headed for the country, where then would the country be?) I’m speaking of the “urbanization of the heart, mind and soul.” We have placed ourselves (many of us, unknowingly and unwantedly) at the center of our own solar systems. We spend all of our days tirelessly trying to keep all of our planets in motion, making sure no forgotten task or responsibility breaks free from its intended orbit. And what an incredibly noisy, busy, anxious, burdomesom, tiresome, and arrogant galaxy we find ourselves in charge of!
Can we be rescued from this pathological pattern of self-absorption? Yes. Little by little – perhaps one chirp at a time. This is exactly what Jesus said: “Dude, stop worrying for a second and check out the birds! See that bird? It knows the difference between creature and Creator. Stop trying to play God. You’ll only end up crushed under the weight of such a heavy burden” (Matt 6, my paraphrase).
This springtime and summer, let nature’s song shake you out of the dissonance of your own teetering universe, and let her sweet melody draw you gently into the harmonious rhythms of a life renewed, a life reborn. Not a life of our own superintending, ordering, and micro-managing. But a life set free from this self-absorbed worrying, reaching, and grasping. Let us turn our heads outward, engage in some “extro-spection”, and find ourselves peering once again into the Great Unknown. Who knows? We just might find a familiar Face hidden among the stars.
“I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky-jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro-self and wonder, Why do you bother with us” (Psalm 8:3-4 MSG).
“Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds” (Matthew 6:26 MSG).
“Not everyone can carry the weight of the world.” – R.E.M.
I am miles away from living this out personally. With much grace and patience I will arrive in time (cf. Phil 1:6).