Dumb Birds, Wise Men and Crossing Through Thresholds to New Life
It’s Easter Monday folks and, though I’ve never really celebrated or understood Easter going past Sunday, I’ll take it. (Add this to the long list of things I don’t understand.) In fact, I just learned a few weeks ago that Easter’s date is set by the cycle of the moon. Did you know that? Yep, the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox is Easter Sunday. How’s that for some divine feminine pagan crossover amazingness?
If you read my last Substack you’ll know my lent has been filled with some hard faced reality around misogyny. Some getting angry. I’m sure I’m not completely done with that, but I’m done for now. Anger is the itchy sweater of emotions for me. I’m ready for some well worn cotton. But before I let it go completely, I have a quick story for you.
So this last week I’ve had a bird banging into my window. Not a one time thing where the bird, temporarily got lost and didn’t see glass, but a continual like every 5 minutes throwing its bird-self beak long into the bay window and then collapsing onto the brick sill. My first reaction was worry for the bird, but then I layered over my worry with a story of divine meaning. I’ve been hard-hearted. The spirit of forgiveness is trying to get through my cold glass heart and I’ve selfishly closed it off and now this poor bird is paying the price. (perhaps a slightly narcissistic mythologizing 🙄). But then when I looked up why this happens, here’s what the Googles said:
“This is a problem that is most common in spring as male birds are establishing and defending territories. The male sees his reflection in the window and thinks it is a rival trying to usurp his territory. He flies at the window to try and make the rival leave. This behavior is most often reported in mockingbirds, robins, and cardinals.”
MALE AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOR!? Are you serious?
Now I’m just rolling my eyes every time Todd slams himself into the window attacking his imaginary predator that’s only a reflection of his own dumb self.
Ok, now I’m done. Letting it go. Resurrection here I come.
So my friend Erin and I started a podcast.
We’ll be releasing the first episodes soon and I’m excited to share them with you all. The format is thematic. We choose a theme, have a discussion, interview someone we think is an expert and then reflect on what we’ve learned. Even though we’re talking mostly about Culture and Social Science, the podcast is called (A)Theist, cause Erin is an atheist and I’m a theist. Pretty Simple. And while those are pretty core differences in our world views, Erin and I find so many more points of agreement and similarities in the way we experience the world. We both think it's important in our society of divisions to find commonality, civility and ways that we can learn from one another. We’re just really two friends shooting the shit about stuff we care about, laughing a lot and trying to create a space of healing and enlightenment in our little corner of the world.
The first episode’s theme is Awe inspired by Krista Tippet’s interview of Dacher Keltner and his new book Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. Then we had the incredible privilege to interview Dr. Belden Lane, professor emeritus of Theology at Saint Louis University. Lane is the author of several books including two of my favorites, Backpacking with the Saints and A Solace of Fierce Landscapes. The hour we spent talking to Lane was one of the most profound conversations of my life, and as I looked over at Erin several times during the interview with tears streaming down her face, I think she felt the same way.
As I reflect on these last 6 weeks and the study and discussions of Awe, I realize they’ve been a salve to the rest of the aforementioned difficult Lenten season. As I’ve said I think three times now in this post, I’m ready for resurrection! And as I sit here, I realize that resurrection and awe are intertwined. In Keltner’s book, awe is the thing that brings us out of our default self, our ego driven self and into a state of healthy smallness. A connectedness to the stream of life that is greater than our little orbit. To a place of Oneness.
We’re just really two friends shooting the shit about stuff we care about, laughing a lot and trying to create a space of healing and enlightenment in our little corner of the world.
Hear Keltner’s definition of awe: “an experience of encountering vast mystery that transcends your understanding of the world.” I can pretty much stamp that right onto my understanding or lack thereof with Christ’s resurrection. And yet, as I listened back yesterday to the interview with Belden and a tremendous story he tells of a vision quest he goes on after his son’s passing, I am convinced that resurrection is possible and not only that, it is all around us. Just like awe, we have to simply be on the lookout.
Keltner found that the number one way we experience awe is through observing other people's strength, courage and resilience - kindness and love in the face of adversity. Isn't this what Jesus’ message of living was all about? Find strength to forgive, find courage to bear one another's suffering. Perhaps these lessons weren't just for the good of the one being courageous. Instead Jesus knew in an intuitive way that when we act out of courageous love, all those who bear witness also experience awe along with us. In essence, our bearing witness to the sacrifice that leads to resurrection, actually creates resurrection in us! The awe that brings us out of the most unhealthy parts of our narcissistic selves.. out of our dead-stuck selves.. and into the awe-filled space of resurrection.
All the ways that Keltner's studies identify how we find awe - music, art, community, ritual, nature, epiphany, and even life and death - all these are threshold moments. A space where once we pass through, we are no longer the same. There's a saying that once you are awakened, you can't go back and unawaken. It's with you. I remember when I was a young person thinking after experiencing some profound event,"Because this happened to me, I don't think I'll ever be what people expected of me." This was obviously the thought of a young person trying to find their own identity, but it was true. When we experience moments of awe and disengage with perhaps the default self, the false self, the egoic self, the first half of life self, we move into new territory. We move through that threshold and into a place where we are changed, redeemed, not from the old life but towards a new one.
The awesome thing about Easter, whether you believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus or not, is that we can see this promise of new life all over the place. In the budding leaves of the trees, the hyacinth as they burst forth new perfume into the air, even in the crazy, dumb bird pelting himself into my window for the last week as he protects the new life in the tree from his own reflection.
What is needed however to move through these naturally occurring thresholds? Well, according to both Lane and Keltner we need presence. Attentiveness. Awareness at the wonder of it all. It's no surprise that to jolt people in overwhelm out of their state we ask them to look around the room and notice things. Name five things you see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. By asking people to pay attention to their environment, we ask them to enter the general dance again. Be present in your life! Look for the beauty of sunsets over the lone mesas and know that those sunsets are there for you to make meaning of your life. And that meaning, as poetic and mythic as it may be, is what brings us all back to life.
I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by the much missed Frederick Buechner,
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
Be Well Friends!