My seven-year-old son recently discovered that I have a website, and wanted to see it. So I showed him a few of the various links here on The Peace and the Passion, and explained that blogging is a way for people to publicly display and write about the things that interest them.
He looked at me and shook his head. "Dad, if that's true, there need to be more birds here!"
Over the course of this summer, I'm going to be posting a series of spiritual reflections inspired by various birds, many species of which have long symbolic traditions in Christian art and thought. But before we begin that series (which will be posted in the weekly "Friday Feature" slot), it seems fitting to take a moment to commend birding as useful spiritual discipline to my readers, whether you already have an appreciation for birds or whether you're yet to reach that manifestly eminent stage of Christian enlightenment.
This is a subject that was dubbed "Ornitheology" (a portmanteau of "ornithology," the study of birds, and "theology") by the prominent pastor, author, and Bible teacher John Stott, who also happened to be a lifelong birder. Now, to the uninitiated, a passion for birds might seem as peculiar a thing as a fondness for patristics, medieval iconography, or quatrains of arcane verbiage. But birds really do have an immediate appeal that most people can appreciate--as winged wonders that seem to transcend the limitations of our plodding, terrestrial existence, they are often the inspirations for our highest works of art; and, as a hobby, birding is one of the most popular pastimes in the world. My own love for birds has waxed and waned through various seasons of my life, but it seems to be innate--some of my earliest memories have to do with a feeling of fascination regarding birds.
OK, OK, so a lot of people like birds. But why should you, in particular, bother to think about birds, or take any of your valuable time to go slogging about the countryside looking for them? I have a few good reasons for you, some rather practical and some more reflective.
First, birding is one of those rare hobbies that combines the admirable qualities of being as cheap as you want it to be (or, if you have lots of money to throw around, as expensive as you want it to be), of encouraging healthy interaction with nature rather than with a glowing screen indoors, and of promoting a bit of pleasant physical activity. It engages us in something real, something beyond the scope of our own limited, technology-driven agendas. It draws us outside of ourselves and our creations, and directs our attention back to the Maker's world, the creatures he designed for his own glory.
And for the Christian, birds can carry a special appeal beyond all those factors. We've long used birds in our symbolism, as metaphors for the way our spirits respond to God. As an example of this symbolic association, consider the popular artistic rendering of angels: though they are spirit-beings of indefinable physical form, they are often portrayed, both in Scripture and beyond, as being human beings with birds' wings. The Bible regularly calls attention to birds as metaphors and examples for various important principles in the Christian's life. A bird is even one of the primary symbols of a member of the blessed Trinity itself (the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove).