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FLYING WITH THE BIRDS, SOARING WITH THE SWIFT,
DANCING WITH DELIGHT
Dancing! unwise. Flying! unsafe. Soaring, insufficiently pedestrian. You will usually get grumpy glooming somewhere. On the other hand, it is easy to be flamboyant, effervescent and fail to recognise the realities of a situation.
But air! There is something so free, and birds, it is their habitat, element and highway. How their liberty is admirable. Striking to memory is the recall of a vast panegyric of motion, a flinging and winging of masses of birds, once seen near sunset time by recollection, birds that sang in motion, cavorted in captivating swirls and whorls, with changing leaders, hundreds of yards of them in vertical ascending puffs of wing.
This was first mentioned in The Spirit of Envy, Ch. 8 of The Kingdom of Heaven... when we were listening to a group of children in a Scene (III). Since that was written nearer the time of its occurrence, let's listen:
You will notice the
association of the children with this flight and extravagance of imaginative
motion. Theirs too is to find the wings of thought and life, and to soar with
exuberant wisdom. But how may the wisdom be found ? As Job puts it:
"But where can wisdom be found ?
And where is the place of understanding ?
Man does not know its value,
Nor is it found in the land of the living.
The deep says, 'It is not in me',
And the sea says, 'It is not with me.'
"It cannot be purchased for gold...
From where then does wisdom come ?
And where is the place of understanding ?
It is hidden from the eyes of all living,
And concealed from the birds of the air.
"Destruction and earth say,
'We have heard a report about it with our ears.'
God understands it way,
And He knows it place...
He saw wisdom and declared it;
He prepared it, indeed, He searched it out.
And to man He said,
'Behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom,
And to depart from evil is understanding.' " (From Job 28.)
The birds, you will note, do NOT have wisdom, but oh they SHOW it! It has been searched out (see Barbs, Arrows and Balms 27 on the delightful presentation in Proverbs 8 on the everlasting and lively wisdom which is God's constant companion, His word who became the Messiah, clothed in flesh, exuberant with power, imagination, immovable in truth, incarnate from heaven). Like the birds, we do not have wisdom either, that is, mankind as such; but we can KNOW it. THAT is one fundamental difference.
THE FEAR OF THE LORD
While many of the creation can perceive things, follow instincts and activate equipment, to us it is given to KNOW wisdom ... IF we go where it is, for "God understands its way" and hence "the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to depart from evil is understanding". Beautiful words, like cascading waterfalls of pure, mountain waters coming through the lively verdure, adorning itself with butterflies and the drone of active bees.
It is the perversity of man so frequently NOT to see this "fear of the Lord" as an invitation to the directed energies of divinely donated dynamics - like that flight of the birds observed above - but as a crimping, cramping, damping, if not damaging restraint, restriction and penalty for being religious.
It is quite true that religion CAN be the movement of cultural occlusion, the profusion of imaginative follies and extravagances of thought of man, and so can the stomach become bulging (one has seen some examples recently with which the imagination does not wish to be connected by memory) through misuse, or a mind disordered through misconception. It is not abuse but use which is in point.
To KNOW what is wisdom,
when you see how bountiful are its dispositions in the creation; and to find
it in the source, the creator, the conserver and the judge, and to find Him
amenable, available for discourse, and to find that He even HAS discoursed
in the Bible on precisely what our position is, and is not, and where truth
and righteousness and purity and the splendour of cleansed spirit and comradeship
in the love of truth and of God may be found ... what is this ?
THE SUBLIME DONATION
What is it but a sublime donation from eternity into time, so that man may share with His dealings, and understand his way ... yes, and best of all, His way! His ways... He is personal and He has His ways and His beauties of holiness. The path of understanding is His; the narrow way is His (Matthew 7). When you are lost, the narrow defiles and slight strips of path are delightful ... when you know they are restoring you to the right way.
But let us turn now
to the magpie. He was mentioned in Stepping out for Christ Ch.9. In this case, the wisdom found was in education!
Let us review a small portion, that dealt with the way magpie senior was
seeking to bring magpie very junior into the conduct of good citizenship.
The way the adult magpie was treating, training, disciplining the young one
"Where now that swooping piece of aeronautical majesty, that dynamic and decisive bird for which many sea-gulls make way as if to majesty! Where now the carolling, warbling, the gleaming eye, the resolute attacks on those who would interfere, the intelligent assessment and the unvanquished resolve! THESE things await adulthood. Long is the process of learning. Long is the humility before honour. Long is the wind tunnel, and strong the gust it brings to test the capacities of the bird-to-be, of the youngster in training."
We are not very good at grovelling these days, such is our innate dignity from a young age, our TV sessions, our socially 'trained' mentors, and our untold wonders of personality only waiting to declare themselves to a wearying world. We are becoming not really very good, as a growing generation now, at being courteous or humble, zealous for goodness or transparent in courage. It is not that the race has changed fundamentally, but that philosophy has damaged the nerve of effort, the talent of training and the hope of triumph.
Dissident and dying, its death wishes are faithfully transmitted to a new generation by university trained departures from wisdom, glorying in their new found weakness. God is dismissed with or without ridicule, or accepted so long as the phraseology merely disguises libido, and exalts it, or allowed in with symbolism so long as His power and word are sufficiently distanced to make Him tame.
Meanwhile man is exalted, children have been through a phase of being all but worshipped, as if their nearness to source was a last resort and recourse for the deluded, hoping to catch some gleam from eternity in their newness; and now they are less adulated, for a settled cynicism sometimes called post-modernism but really multi-faceted, is coming to the fore.
They are merely given rein and to some extent reign, so that they might not learn the grandeur of their Creator, but the thoughts of their own hearts. Without Him, they do not seem to be excessively wonderful. Self-esteem, self-fulfilment, self-advantage, self-propulsion, self-expression and self-consummation is the style of the movements.
But just as we sought the place of wisdom, so now the meaning of self! It is without God, a selfish self, and even in its more moral moments, often a self-congratulatory self, a self-serving self, a self-centred self, a God denying self and even a self-devoted, a sacred self, the needs and whims, desires and fluctuations of which become an absorbing study... for the self. (Cf. SMR Ch.3, A Spiritual Potpourri Ch. 17.)
Excessively horrible, like a daft magpie youngster which could not or would not take the training or realise its PLACE, the self becomes a delusion that is dramatised by misdirected teaching styles, religious exercises in self-made churches, and you even have religious bodies talking about self-made gods. The folly is extraordinary and the social consequences are both manifest and intrusive! The loveliness of childhood is being invaded by the superficiality of ignorance that glories in its unwisdom. Children are prey to divorced adults, no longer married to the Lord, aliens from eternity, flippant from the wings of the Lord, projectiles from truth, relics from reality. It is these that would bring up ... the children in ever increasing numbers. It is rather like a dam into which polluted waters pour incessantly, until, as in one Italian case, it bursts its walls, and pours destructively down the narrow valley to the destruction of what is before it.
Such things may be followed; but need not be. There is much to
be learned, there is ONE from whom to learn it, and in Ch. 1 above, we saw something of who He is and what
He is like... It may be well here to recall from the same Ch.8 of The Kingdom of Heaven, the
delightful youngsters (and there still are some) whose imaginative and discerning
words were in contrast to the ennui and self-assertion of the misled. Let
us hear some of the words, again, of these children:
Here is wisdom, and what is its purpose ? If a bird goes from the north pole to the south, it is not as if there is no advantage to be gained anywhere in-between! The strength and the endurance have not made themselves, nor the desire; but rather the equipment has been moulded to this designed purpose. It then happens, as is the way of equipment relative to manufacture and maintained, coded instructions, as indexed.
WHY! We can merely surmise. However there is a certain beauty
in the sheer intrepidity, a certain stark brilliance in the capacity to navigate,
whether by stars, sun, magnetic field or whatever other possibilities seem
indicated to researchers. Complex equipment is needed as on any other routine
expedition of reliable results. Again, it is for this very reason that it
indicates something of the astute brilliance of the creator which, being
made visible to man in this laboratory of life in the format of bird migration,
is a stirring feature. It both induces towards worship the magnificence and
joy in the power of the Lord, and stirs to endeavour in our own planning
IN ALL THESE THINGS :
TO THEIR SOURCE,
THE OPEN INVITATION
In all these things power, wisdom and control is mixed with vicissitude, difficulty and overcoming; and plan is in equilibrium with ability. Hence things happen, but with challenge. It tends to remind one of the dual need of being fearless in enterprise and resourceful in prudence, imaginative in the scope of one's actions and yet watchful in the field of their performance. It tends to teach the fear of the Lord, not walking as if young gods, or old pieces of grandeur, but as children of God. It tends to remind of the wonder of being able to KNOW this Maker and to have actual communion with Him and His word, and to in the position of bringing HIS message, not by routine flights, however wonderful in conception, but by a fixed point. But then a key in a door lock is like that. It is all fixed, but how deep is the thought behind the door lock and the key, and the concept of entry. So here, in the gospel: it is simple, a child can and often does understand it; but how deep the plan of salvation which is behind it!
Its acme is ONE MAN, because HIS SOURCE is ONE GOD, and His action is ONE SALVATION, and His mind is ONE WONDER of compassion, love and truth, in the beauty of holiness. Does not even the magpie rebuke her witless young; and does not even the swallow evince the glory of this ONE! As Wordsworth had it, in one little creation, blade of grass maybe, lie thoughts "too deep for tears". Which thoughts ? The thought of the cradle of invention in the love of God, who seeing all and knowing all, spent energy in the construction of this tiny and carefully produced fragment; and it reminds us how small each of us really is, yet how large is the mercy of God which would reach to each blade of humanity...
It is not however ONE GENERAL MAN who did this. One Chinese friend of the author is so keen to have his son become a general person, someone who with various talents and skills, will have wide appeal to employers and a variety of strings to his bow. However it has been explained to this friend, that the aim is too low. It is special person who needs to arise, certainly highly skilled and developed, but not with the world in the eye, a world which wars within itself and snakes its war with writhing greed, lust, boast and heartlessness, even its morals being often a mere screen for bombast and self-importance. It is with God in the heart that a special person needs to arise, not mere material for inlaid instinct, but a person whose knowledge of the Father, God and the Saviour Christ enables the development of particularity and precision, real knowledge of the Lord, His word, His works, His ways, and as those, as a fine old Scotch Presbyterian farmer told me, "His ways do not change!" His whole being seemed to confirm the word of his lips.
It is ONE SINGULAR but not single person, Jesus Christ, who with His Father is ONE, who is the base of our knowledge of God, the outpouring of the Lord Himself from timeless eternity, into time, so that in time we might have time to seek Him. The magpie has reminded us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and Job, that the place of wisdom is in God. The way to God, the swift reminds us, requires more than mere motion, but circles the earth, overlooks it, and is found in Him who came past all distance (for that is a mere invention of His, Romans 8:39), to this earth to show us the worthiness of life, the value of it, the plan for it and the redemption it in fact requires.
What mother bird does not protect is young ? In nature there are many illustrations, and the ostrich and its eggs is an interesting case of reminding one of the need for prudence (by its apparent omission with its egg program); but what of the mother with outstretched wing, drawing on the fox or other victim seeker, so that its aspirations for gluttony might be moved far from her nest. And what sincere preacher of the gospel is not all too willing to go where it is dangerous in order to find that which is lost!
It is then that the most profound migration can occur, not to another point in this globe, and not even into the vast aerial spaces so beloved for the wings of the soaring and cavorting bird life; but it to the "kingdom of the Son of His love" (Colossians 1:13,19ff.) that God might transport those who need Him. And these ? they are in number exactly the same as the entire population of the earth, past, present and future; and of these, like birds reaching the summit of their flights and the destiny in view, some behold the land which is very far off (Isaiah 33:17), and behold the king in His beauty. In this Christ, and in His cross, itself the emblem of individual importance, value and payment, there is through the vast ugliness of sin laid on Him, a beauty quite transcendent, for it emphasises the love and the purity which, as if blind to suffering and untouched by folly, breaks it, and makes life available for His own.
Are YOU one of these ? Opening the door is the only way into this
house; the door is Christ and the cross is the key (John 6:40, 51-54, Matthew