Archives For Beauty

My wife and I love birds. Perhaps we enjoy them too much.

I say that because our backyard includes four different feeders. They are different types, and appeal to a variety of species. (We also have a hummingbird feeder on the other side of the house, just outside my office window.)

Blessed as we are to live in the Puget Sound area, we see a variety of avifauna.* Nearly every day we see doves, robins, sparrows, chickadees, juncos, finches, Steller’s jays, thrushes, flickers, towhees, red-winged blackbirds and hummingbirds. Oh, and starlings too, that are the only birds our border collie chases (because of their darting taunts, I suppose).

Occasionally we have goldfinches, quail, band-tailed pigeons, woodpeckers, and various other guests I’m not quite positive about. In the sky, and on the nearby shoreline, we see many seagulls, mallards, great blue herons, Canadian geese, and—particularly during the current season—bald eagles.

As I said, we are definitely blessed to enjoy so many lovely creatures surrounding us. But this post isn’t really about birds; it concerns a particular bird who has recently joined our community. It is (I’m pretty confident) a Brewer’s blackbird.

He boasts magnificent sheen on his jet black plumage. Sadly, though, he appears to be quite unhappy.

His unhappiness is due to unrequited love. A tragic condition shared by many human beings. You see, each morning he comes to a bird bath near our bedroom window where he can perch and view his own reflection on the glass.

Seeing a potential companion, he does a sort of courting dance, which the reflection presumably imitates. He bumps into the glass, often repeatedly. Despite his zealous efforts, he inevitably ends up disappointed. And yet, there he is, the next morning, delighted that his friend is willing to give him another chance.

We Are Like the Blackbird

One recent morning I awoke to his antics, and it struck my waking mind that that poor bird’s futile efforts are a metaphor of our lives.

We perceive idealized reflections of ourselves, so flawless we become enraptured. We think of ourselves as the most important thing in the world. In a sense, we begin to believe the universe revolves around us.

I remembered the Greek story of Narcissus. It is a myth offering many insights, not solely the dangers of unbridled self-love. It was because of his contempt for others that Narcissus was cursed to see in a pool a reflection of the only person he considered worthy of his attention. At first, when he fell “in love,” he did not recognize the image as being himself. The tragedy leads to his destruction.⁑

We too, I think as a I watch that small bird vainly striving to find fulfillment in an illusion, experience only disappointment and ultimate despair.

For days Narcissus knelt by the pool, hopelessly in love with the beauty of his own reflection. Before his eyes he saw the image grow pale and thin, weep tears, stretch out its arms, and look at him. Still he could not hear it, could not touch it, no matter how he implored.

While reflecting on this subject, I found a couple of articles I recommend to those desiring to ponder it further. And, next week we will consider other birds, from another perspective—their use in a Renaissance work of fiction, included by C.S. Lewis in his volume from Oxford History of English Literature.

C.S. Lewis on the Bible: Myth, Truth, Fact, and Genesis” explores C.S. Lewis’ contribution to comprehending the complexity inherent in mythology. He cites the simplistic interpretation of the story of Narcissus as a misleading reduction of the myth’s deeper message.

Understanding and Dealing with Today’s Culture of Narcissism” notes how C.S. Lewis offered a non-narcissian prescription for addressing the “hungry soul.”

Self-Centeredness Isn’t Narcissism’s Central Problem,” discusses the myth and the culture of Narcissism in which we are immersed. Author Angela Franks, a professor at St. John’s Seminary, then moves into a brilliant discussion of Till We Have Faces, which C.S. Lewis considered his finest book.

C. S. Lewis’s unjustly neglected rewriting of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, in his novel Till We Have Faces, provides a profound insight into the narcissistic spectrum. . . .

So it appears [in Lewis’ myth] that the beloved of the gods is not only the beautiful and wise Psyche, but also the tormented and ugly Orual. In the divine plan, the hideous older half-sister suffers in order to aid the beautiful maiden, but the beautiful maiden also goes through the greatest trials in order to purify Orual. The god, it appears, is willing to sacrifice his beloved in order to be united to the one who hates him. “What’s mine is yours!” Psyche and the god proclaim to Orual, but this time not in vengeance; in Lewis’s new myth, just retribution gives way to undeserved love.

To discourage our obsidian-feathered friend from squandering his brief life in pursuit of his own reflection, my wife and I just placed some decals on the window. It appears to have worked.

Would that our own echoes of Narcissus were addressed so simply.


* Don’t feel bad if this word is unfamiliar to you, don’t feel bad. I didn’t know it before I wrote this post. It means “the birds of a particular region, habitat, or geological period.”

⁑ The versions of this myth end in different ways, ranging from his divine transformation into a flower, to his despair and suicide.

The Dearest of Deer

May 25, 2012 — 10 Comments

Thank you, Lord, for allowing us to live in a home surrounded by a forest!

When I was driving home this afternoon I was stunned by the majestic flight of a dozen bald eagles as they danced in the sky above our small community of Seabeck, Washington. I pulled to the side of the road and enjoyed their ballet for some time before deciding that I would blog about eagles when I returned home.

Then I saw something even more precious. Just outside the window of my study a doe and her two (very) young fawns walked past. I grabbed my camera and snapped no fewer than fifty photos as they grazed on the nearby lawn. (I decided as they wandered on down another trail that the post on the eagles would wait.)

The fawns were so tiny I don’t think they could have been fourteen inches tall. (Sorry, we older Americans are still metric-impaired.) They stood as though they were still getting the feel of their tiny legs. It was a glorious scene.

C.S. Lewis graced the land of Narnia with a stunning array of creatures. Some are not found in this world, apart from myths. Unicorns and centaurs would be of that ilk.

I happen to find the others even more fascinating. The horses, dogs and bears that are familiar to us, but different. Different because they have been gifted with speech, and with it, the ability to know and follow their Maker.

As he wrote in his description of Narnia’s creation in The Magician’s Nephew:

And now, for the first time, the Lion [Aslan] was quite silent. He was going to and fro among the animals. And every now and then he would go up to two of them (always two at a time) and touch their noses with his. He would touch two beavers among all the beavers, two leopards among all the leopards, one stag and one deer among all the deer, and leave the rest. . . . The creatures whom he had touched came and stood in a wide circle around him. . . .

The Lion, whose eyes never blinked, stared at the animals as hard as if he was going to burn them up with his mere stare. And gradually a change came over them. The smaller ones—the rabbits, moles, and such-like—grew a good deal larger. The very big ones—you noticed it most with the elephants—grew a little smaller. Many animals sat up on their hind legs. Most put their heads on one side as if they were trying very hard to understand. The Lion opened his mouth, but no sound came from it; he was breathing out, a long, warm breath; it seemed to sway all the beasts as the wind sways a line of trees.

Far overhead from beyond the veil of blue sky which hid them the stars sang again; a pure, cold, difficult music. Then there came a swift flash like fire (but it burnt nobody) either from the sky or from the Lion itself, and every drop of blood tingled in the children’s bodies, and the deepest, wildest voice they had ever heard was saying: “Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.”

The scene I was privileged to observe today reminded me of the innocence of nature, prior to humanity’s disobedience. It also reminded me of the Messianic promises that restored “nature” will enable lions to lie in harmony beside sheep.

In his book Miracles, Lewis discusses this from the perspective of redemption, as contrasted with simply understanding it as a consequence of a “new” creation.

The doctrine of a universal redemption spreading outwards from the redemption of Man, mythological as it will seem to modern minds, is in reality far more philosophical than any theory which holds that God, having once entered Nature, should leave her, and leave her substantially unchanged, or that the glorification of one creature [humanity] could be realised without the glorification of the whole system.

God never undoes anything but evil, never does good to undo it again. The union between God and Nature in the Person of Christ admits no divorce. He will not go out of Nature again and she must be glorified in all ways which this miraculous union demands. When spring comes it “leaves no corner of the land untouched;” even a pebble dropped in a pond sends circles to the margin.

I said a prayer this evening that the Lord would bless that lovely doe and her precious offspring with long, healthy, safe, peaceful, and even, happy lives.

Savoring the Weather

January 18, 2012 — 3 Comments

We awoke this morning to our first true snowfall of the year. Pretty late in winter for it to arrive, and we’ve been longing for a blanket of snow for some time. Getting a call last night about a “weather cancellation” for my wife’s classes was an added joy.

It’s utterly beautiful!

I realize, of course, there are numerous ramifications to changes in weather. The extremes (e.g. from downpours to droughts) can create hardships and hazards. But, when we have an opportunity to simply pause and savor the essence of the changing seasons, it is healing and awe-inspiring.

C.S. Lewis loved the outdoors. And, in a 1931 letter to Arthur Greeves he wrote, “That is a thing you and I have to be thankful for—the fact that we not only don’t dislike but positively enjoy almost every kind of weather.”

If you have a copy of his letters, you really should look up the December 6th correspondence. Lewis describes the wonders of several successive days of dense fog that “was enough to tax even my powers of doing without the sun . . .” He adds, “in the end I felt that it was a cheap price to pay for its beauties.”

So, today I’m doubly blessed. Not only am I enjoying the snow; I’ve learned I have one more thing in common with the great Oxford Don.