Monday, July 15, 2013

A Conversation with a Bird

A mockingbird has laid claim to my back yard.

This is nothing new. Multiple generations of mockingbirds have staked out their territories here. I’ve lived in this house for almost 20 years and there’s always been a mockingbird squawking and flying around, acting like it owns the place. Snotty little creatures, they are.

Mockingbirds also seem to be insomniacs because I hear them singing all through the night (I just read that they are particularly noisy during full moons, thereby revealing their affinity with vampires and werewolves). They are also copycats (okay, copybirds) because they mimic the sounds that other birds make.

I often sit on my back porch to read. The resident mockingbird would sit up on a telephone wire and scold me once in a while, but mostly it would ignore me. But this weekend, I experimented with a little bit of mockery of my own.

I stood under the wire where the bird was perched and did my humanly best to mimic the call that I heard. I noticed that it started looking at me in the weird bird way that they do, with their heads moving back and forth so that their sideways eyes can see you. Every time I copied the bird’s call, it would give me that look and then make another sound, which I would feed back to it. After a while, I retreated to my cherished spot on the porch and continued my reading.

In just a few minutes, the bird landed on the railing near to where I was sitting and gave me its look. We exchanged bird talk for a while, and then it flew under my porch, flapped around, and took off. We’ve continued this little human-avian exchange several times over the past couple of days.

I wondered: Is the bird trying to connect with me? Is it seeking to establish a unique bond with me that would draw us both into the complexities and wonders of the created order? So I did some Internet investigation and explored the various calls of the mockingbird.

As it turns out, the bird’s call to me was an aggressive one, telling me, in bird essence, to get off of his lawn. It could be that, in its astonishment that one of the large, clumsy, land dwellers would speak in bird language, it still wanted to poke its sharp little beak into my eyes and then snip my aorta so that I would cease to be a threat to its territorial claim. Or, it could just have been having fun with me.

I choose to believe the latter theory. It occurs to me that if I would figure out how to do a non-aggressive call, the bird and I might become friends (after all, it probably did sound like I was picking a fight). And I’d better be sure that I don’t attempt something that could be interpreted as a mating call. That could have difficult ramifications.

I tend to worry too much about global things. There’s a lot going on all around us—politically, socially, economically, and even religiously—and I’m concerned with how we Christians are or are not responding to these things. I worry about how dramatic and rapid cultural shifts will affect Christian communities of faith and their role of ministry in the world. I struggle with how reactive we can all be and how we aren’t very good at listening to one another, looking one another in the eye even as we disagree. These things trouble me.

It was a life-giving respite to share a conversation with a bird. Yes, as it turns out, we were speaking aggressively to each other. But the bird came close and we made eye contact, two mortal subjects sharing the breath of God in our bodies. In that contact, annoyance turned into communication, and aggression turned into curiosity. I am coming to like this bird.

I can’t determine exactly what the bird thinks of me, but I’m appreciative that it came close and looked me in the eye. And, to be clear, the lawn is mine.

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