Magazine article The American Organist

From the Chaplain

Magazine article The American Organist

From the Chaplain

Article excerpt

Song That Blesses Earth

I HAVE always been impressed with the tenacity of birdsong. In spring, the early morning woodland choir rouses me from bed, but what delights me even more are the birds that hang around for winter and that I sometimes hear singing even when it is snowing. I am not the only one impressed with this phenomenon. Every December I receive at least two or three Christmas cards that feature a red cardinal in a snowstorm, the very bird that I often see and hear on the snow-draped hemlock tree in my backyard.

Ornithologists have studied the nature of birdsong and how it is used as a means of warning, defense, and courtship, but during this season what interests me most is how singing birds function as symbols in our imaginations of some profounder resilience that we hear in their music. I open one of my Christmas cards, whose cover features a photograph of a cardinal singing in a snowstorm, and I read in bold letters: "Merry Christmas! " It seems perfectly sensible to me to move from a singing bird to the celebration of Christ's nativity. There is nothing in ornithology that would say such a connection has any grounding in scientific fact, but in the world of symbol, song, and spiritual imagination, there is another way of being that awakens the soul to rhapsodic extravagance: "let heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing." Let heaven and cardinals sing, let heaven and cardinals sing! And why not? Cardinals belong to the realm of nature.

The fact of the matter is that birds have a long pedigree in our literary and spiritual imagination. …

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