Seeing the connection

Birds nest photo from GettyImages

One morning as I sat on the front porch to start the day, I noticed a blue jay bedeviling a squirrel. Mind you, the harassment of squirrels doesn’t bother me. They’re cute, but they won’t stay out of my squirrel-proof bird feeder.

Over and over the bird assailed the squirrel, returned to a particular bush, then emerged again for another attack. So I decided to investigate further.

As I pulled back the branches, I spied the blue jay 18 inches away sitting on eggs in her nest. Her small, fierce eye held my gaze. Surely she was terrified of my intrusion, but she wouldn’t abandon her eggs. We stared at one another for a minute. Then I gently settled the bush back in place.

I felt transfixed by that tiny eye, wondering how much I miss in my own front yard because I move too fast. Or perhaps there is something fundamentally flawed in the way I view the world, like through a too-dirty lens.

Moses encountered a bush in the wilderness. The bush was on fire, but not consumed. Then God gave a curious command to Moses: take off your shoes, because you are standing on holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)

Sheltering-in-place has reminded me to look more closely to what’s happening in the world. Through the fierce love of a mothering blue jay, the coming and going of neighbors, working puzzles with my wife, or a butterfly feasting on fallen loquat fruit, I have been reminded of the potency of life’s little moments.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, But only he who sees takes off his shoes; The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” 

Plucking blackberries is the opposite of taking off shoes. The world does not exist only for our needs, but instead offers itself to our imaginations and invites us to participate in the flow. We must stay a while and feel the dirt between our toes to experience the transcendent.  

All the great religious traditions teach the necessity of “opening blind eyes.” Reality doesn’t change; we just begin to see it differently. Awakening arrives unexpectedly or can be cultivated through sitting, listening, and praying. Perhaps one of the hidden blessings of the pandemic, as tough as it has been, is that, unbidden, we’ve had our eyes opened. We see the needs of our neighbors more. We realize how connected all life is. We remember how important it is to love one another and every little scampering and flying creature.

Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “If you love each thing, you will perceive the mystery of God in things. Once you have perceived it, you will begin tirelessly to perceive more and more of it every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an entire, universal love.” (From The Brothers Karamazov)

So slow down and take off your shoes and see. You might encounter love staring back at you.