Category Archives: Spirituality

Father’s Day Fledgings

A friend of mine happens to work in the same office as a wildlife rehabilitator.  Through that channel, I’m told that wild bird fledgings peak around Father’s day.  Well, the half-grown pigeon on my balcony certainly seems to be on the verge of it.  And yesterday the last of three baby robins in a nest in a tree outside the West door of the library where I work made it out of the nest.  My department had been watching the nest for days.  We were worried by the report of a hawk hanging around.  We had a lot of sympathy for the overworked parents bringing bugs to three increasingly demanding beaky little maws! It turns out that robin parents sit in a branch on the same tree or another tree and sweetly chirp to persuade a chick to take the plunge.  Pigeon parents – judging by the example on my balcony – coo to the near-fledglings to encourage them to come and get food and finally take flight.

This time of year it’s easy to see that parenting is in the warp and woof of life.  So, as a matter of fact, is surrogate parenting.  The wildlife rehabilitator has been watching a wren in her back yard for years.  This female wren annually lays eggs in a neat little nest.  By the time the eggs hatch she lines up a second boyfriend, so the chicks have three adults feeding and fending for them.

The rehabilitator brings cheeping shoeboxes to work because chicks need feeding every three hours.  Her colleagues take a lively interest in the contents of the shoebox.  Presently the shoebox contains a baby shrike.  Shrikes are technically songbirds – not that they act like it:  they are carnivores.  So what do you feed a baby shrike?  It turns out that you can buy minced mouse from pet food suppliers (!) I visualize the rehabilitator carefully dropping bits of mouse meat into the baby birdy’s  eager little beak.  And the many other rehabilitators, women and men, boys and girls, being surrogate parents for a wildly different species:  tending baby birds (and other creatures) this time of year in order to get the little things to the point where they can be grown-up birds that fly away.  Happy Father’s Day to all of them!


Here is the baby pigeon on my balcony now.  It’s funny how this creature’s adult plumage is coming in:  from back to front.  The back end now looks more or less like a fine-feathered gray pigeon but the front end is all pinfeathers and baby-chick down.

pigeon pot

So here is the pigeon nest in the potted dragon tree on my balcony now.  Baby pigeons not only start out ugly-looking, they stay that way.  I had baby chickens when I was little, and they are way cuter, and  more precocious.  Baby chickens scurry around almost from the beginning.  Pigeon chicks are late bloomers.  They stay in the nest for a long time being fed and watched over.  This parent pigeon did not trust the big staring eye of the camera being pointed at them!

Perfect Storm

Sebastian Junger made  “perfect storm” famous in his book with that title.   He derived it from a conversation with a meteorologist.  Essentially it doesn’t mean a  purebred colossal storm. It means a conjunction of meteorological events that add up to something uncommonly bad.  By extension, it can be a conjunction of  meteorological and other events (or it can depart from the meteorological and take off into the metaphorical.)

Well, here’s one that we can hope and pray we don’t see.  The notorious oil spill is still bleeding like a cut artery in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.  What happens if a hurricane comes along?  NPR did a segment on this, and the prospects are awful.  By darkening the water, and causing the water to heat under the sun, the oil might make a hurricane more severe.  Or a hurricane might drive the oil much deeper into the salt marshes than it would have gone on its own.  Or shove the oil at Florida.

It’s beside the point to say this is an impossibly unlikely scenario.  By the reckoning of BP, the oil industry in general, and the Federal MMS agency that was way too cozy with the industry, the spill itself was impossible!

Pigeon Watch

Happily, we now have  the normal complement of two (2) small creamy white eggs in the  pigeon nest in the dragon tree pot on my balcony.  The male pigeon is taking his turns brooding the eggs.  He’s more skittish, which is how I can count eggs.  I go onto the balcony and start watering plants and he flits away to the roof.  At any rate, everybody is getting watered, including the dragon tree. And the pigeons.  Yesterday my friend Jan said, “Have you put out a water dish for them?”   Jan once had House Wrens nesting  in a fern on her porch and she watered the fern with an eye dropper to make sure the eggs didn’t get wet.  And our priest in her Sunday homily lifted up the significance of hospitality.  So this morning I put out pot saucer and filled it with water for the pigeons.

Nesting 101

One fine morning recently, there were a lot of cooings on my balcony.  It was these two.  For obvious reasons I named them Juliet (perched on the railing) and Romeo (under the railing.)

Then I found surprises in the dragon tree pot.

I told these pigeons from the start that they might not want to do their courting, not to mention nesting, on a balcony where the human comes out all the time.  But here we are.  Possibly they’re very young and haven’t got the knack of successful nesting down.  This is why pigeons need grandparents.

Jesus and Christ

Philip Pullman – author of the fabulously written, famously antireligious Dark Materials fantasy trilogy – is at it again.  According to an NPR interview, his latest novel was inspired by the Archbishop of Canterbury asking him where Jesus fit into the Dark Materials world. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ posits Jesus of Nazareth having a psychologically disturbed twin brother named Christ.  The storyline plays on the inconsistencies of the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus.

It sounds a bit silly to me.  Progressive Christian theology distinguishes between Jesus and Christ with the phrase “Jesus the Christ.”  Jesus was a human being, the Christ is the salvific, revelatory presence of God unveiled by a human life.  Progressive Christians tend to be comfortable with the idea of more than one Christ in history, in the world, and most certainly in art and fiction.  Woman Christ?  Oh yes, see the feminist sculpture Christa by Edwina Sandya, or  read Elizabeth Moon’s fantasy novel Deed of Paksenarrion. Wizard Christ?! Harry Potter.  Google “Christ Figure” in Wikipedia and check the notes under Literature for a fascinating remark: that generally in literature (many examples listed), Christ figures stop at being martyred and don’t get as far as resurrection.   Paksenarrion and Harry do get resurrected.  So does the extraterrestrial Christ, E.T. in the movie.  Offhand I’d say that convincingly resurrecting a Christ figure is, in terms of storycraft, quite a challenge.

In Pullman’s new book the resurrection is a fraud perpetrated by the twin brother, Christ.

Well, intellectually honest theologians, intelligent believers, and Christian agnostics (of whom there are many, and some of them write novels) have grappled for a long, long time with the original incredibleness of the Gospel, the devastating imperfection of the Church, the inconsistency of the Bible, and the darkness of the human unconscious.   One of the first theologians to recognize the deep waters below the conscious mind was Martin Luther in the 1500’s. WHAT THE CHURCH SAYS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE!! is hardly a newsflash.

On the other hand, Philip Pullman does what he’s doing very well, and faith is well served by brilliant honest skepticism.  It can clear out mindless weediness and rank undergrowth.  One of the most amazing anti-religious tales ever written is Olaf Stapleton’s classic Star Maker. That novel alone, taken with the seriousness it deserves,  destroys the credibility of  God the Supreme Being in our day.

Theologian Paul Tillich’s God Beyond God and God the Ground of Being held up to the 20th Century a lot better than orthodoxy’s  Supreme Being or the Watchmaker of Deism.  Process Theology has held up too.  Liberation Theology brewed in the 20th Century, proclaiming God’s “preferential option for the poor” and stirring the pot of the Roman Catholic Church.  One thing critics like Pullman may miss – understandably, if they decamped from organized religion at an early age – is the extend of the prophetic, i.e., critical and reformational, tradition, in religion.  And the mystical undercurrents.  Christian mystics across the centuries called God  shining darkness, mystery that terrifies and fascinates, lover of souls,  cloud of unknowing, and on and on, images and stories that didn’t square with Church doctrine and sometimes got the mystics into trouble.

My copy of the Dark Materials trilogy was a gift from a Roman Catholic priest who valued its message against the worst perversions of organized religion. This priest – since deceased and celebrated by a funeral Mass that drew in all sorts of friends and clergy – knew well that Church and Christ are not coextensive.   He also knew how mystical and prophetic movements always bubble up in organized religion and are never welcome there.

The mystics experienced God in ways that doctrine made little or  no allowance for.  Reformation happened because Luther saw the Church in dire need of reforming from the top down.  And then there was the real Jesus of Nazareth.  Believe me, many intellectually honest theologians, seminary professors, and Biblical scholars and historians have studied the words and works of Jesus to learn what he really said and meant.  Much of the best scholarship points to this:  with his parables and his paradoxical sayings wasn’t spelling out what people should think about God.  He was dislodging God from the mental and cultural boxes in which the idea of God was contained.  And he was freeing people from mind-bending, heart-breaking condictions imposed by religious authorities.  Which is, to say the least, work that forever needs doing.