I recently had the pleasure of experiencing the truth of a saying that is common this time of year: “good things come in small packages”. I was sitting at our campsite’s picnic table waiting for the day to clear. A goldfinch zoomed in, landing upside down on a round seed pod hanging in a close-by sycamore tree. He started to pluck at the pod foraging on the tiny seeds and accidentally releasing a squadron of delicate seed paratroopers to their fates in the light breeze.
This simple everyday event set my mind to ramble. I imagined the small bird shedding its bright yellow breeding feathers to put on dull winter plumage for its migration trek, maybe from as far away as Canada. And, as it munched on tiny seeds, what about its evolution? What adaptive dance has occurred over eons between beak shape and the yielding sycamore pod? What made the sycamore willing to offer nutritious seeds to the bird in exchange for setting many of its progeny free to fly? How did the delicate parachute strategy of seed dispersal become so common? The natural world is a treasure chest for human contemplation and imagination.
It goes without saying that, for those so inclined, myself included, nature’s occurrences inspire spiritual/religious contemplation as well. Elizabeth A. Johnson, a contemporary theologian, in Ask the Beasts, observes: “The vivifying, subtly active presence of the Creator flashes out from the simplest natural phenomenon.” How can I contemplate the wonder of this bird, the bird/tree symbiosis, and the role and capabilities of the observer without pondering how we all got here and why?
Which brings me back to my philosophical rock, my main human, the preeminent eco-theologian of my world, Thomas Berry. As no other, he can integrate the scientific and the spiritual workings of our world and minds. There’s a particular quote of his that I find remarkably uplifting, comforting, and challenging in these times. Here it is, with awe and humility he defines humans as “that being in whom the Universe reflects on and celebrates itself in a special mode of conscious self-awareness.” Pretty heady stuff when you put your mind to it!
Which brings me to this season of joy and hope and my wishes for you. May you reflect on and celebrate your own uniqueness. May you reflect on and celebrate your family, relatives, and friends. May you reflect on and celebrate your neighbors, faith community, and co-workers. May you reflect on and celebrate the increasing fragile natural world and all its wonders. May you reflect on and celebrate the inspirational role of our country in the world.
John Muir famously observed: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." May you reflect on and celebrate the oneness that surrounds us and includes us. Let us go forth in love to do good for all.