by Rob Field, CSW Director
Every year, I await their return.
My wife and I live at the edge of the woods, and we know spring has finally sprung when we hear the song of the Wood Thrushes floating through our window. For me, their voice is the voice of God in nature: impossibly beautiful, often melodious, and stunningly intricate. It’s a heavenly sound. Even if you’re unfamiliar with every other birdsong, the Wood Thrush is one to know. (Hear & learn more about it at this Audobon Society web page.)
Bird experts explain that Wood Thrushes (and two other varieties of Thrush) have double voice boxes, creating the possibility of harmonious sounds and symphonic-quality songs coming from a single bird. That’s why its song reminds me of the divine. It takes me out of my everyday concerns and assures me that beauty, goodness, and truth still exist.
When I use the word “God,” it’s a kind of shorthand for the presence of beauty, truth, and love. Religions frequently make the mistake of speaking as if they have an exclusive grasp of these things. They can fall into this illusion while imagining they have the truest understanding of God. Yet a single moment of recognition — like seeing a beautiful flower, hearing a child laugh, or hugging a friend or beloved animal — can connect us to the divine without the need of an intermediary.
I’ve been reflecting on this lately because of recent experiences. There’s the song of the Wood Thrush, of course. There’s also our neighbor, who hired a company that trucked a flock of sheep to his house recently. The sheep were set loose in a large fenced-in area to clear the underbrush as they grazed. Apparently, hungry sheep will even eat English Ivy! Among the flock were a couple of wooly white lambs, who are young enough to gambol (leap & cavort) as the neighbors looked on in charmed delight. If you’re ever feeling down and can find some lambs, look into their adorable faces for a short time, watch them skipping through the grass, and see if your spirits don’t improve significantly. God comes in an amazing variety of beautifully simple experiences.
God can also come to us in the form of loss. As I write this, I have two recent losses in mind: the death of one of our oldest neighbors, and the death of our beloved family dog, Charlie. Our neighbor was one of the kindest, friendliest, wisest people I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. She taught math for many years at Brevard College, was a devoted member of her faith community, tutored children (including my own) who struggled with math in school, and was a genuinely humble and friendly person. Her loss is a big one for me, because her very presence reminded me of the goodness (and therefore, the divinity) that we human beings can embody.
The same was true for our dog Charlie. He was, without question, the gentlest creature I have ever known. In the sacred texts I honor, there’s a verse that encourages individuals to “Let your gentleness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5). Charlie was known and loved in our family and neighborhood precisely because he couldn’t help but reveal his gentleness. And if you agree with me that gentleness seems to be in short supply just about everywhere these days, you can understand how our beloved animal reminded me of what is good, beautiful, and true — which, most days, is as close to God as I need to be.