We live in a world shot through with wonder where there are ample sightings of grace and meaning. In 12 previous books, Sam Keen has explored many different aspects of the search for the sacred. In this one, he wanders down memory lane and shares some touching and awe-inspiring stories about birds and other animals. He notes at the outset:
"What the great monotheistic religions neglect to honor are the unique ways in which the experience of the holy comes to individuals. Being focused on the transcendent God, they tend to overlook the sacred moments the sightings and peak experiences when a solitary self stands in awe before the miracle of existence, is astonished by the grace of soaring Red-tailed Hawks, is moved by the beauty of a trumpeting stargazer lily, or is confronted by a sonorous symphony of frogs on a summer night."
Keen's wonder is aroused in a mystical encounter with an Indigo Bunting. It speaks to him of the sacredness of life and the natural world as his home. His enthusiasm for birds and other animals is nourished by an art teacher who enjoys his curiosity about life and in her own loving way, cherishes his being. Later, the author finds a satisfying community in bird-watchers; he appreciates their yearning to celebrate beauty.
As a young boy, Keen kills a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker with a slingshot. He writes movingly about his response:
"I understood that the great commandment to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God must be translated into the discipline of practicing reverence for all life. I was forced to recognize that all members of the commonwealth, all species rare or common, shared an unconditional will to live, which is the divine spirit within us. Standing, or kneeling, in the presence of the mystery of death and the miracle of life I had carelessly extinguished, I felt that ultimately there was no distinction among sparrows, sapsuckers, and me. I owed reverence, respect, and restraint to all."
The author is dismayed that many still see birds as nothing more than "mindless stimulus-response units." He marvels at the navigation systems of those who fly great distances. He has nothing but high regard for the nightingale's musical repertoire of 300 love songs. In Japan, the savvy of Carrion Crows has been noted. They sit above a roadway and drop walnuts on the street; after the nuts are crushed by cars, the birds swoop down to retrieve their bounty.
Keen pays tribute to the Wood Thrush, the Mourning Dove, and Turkey Vultures as spiritual teachers. He describes the latter as "low-class birds, a sort of flying Mafia that controls a far-flung waste-management empire." We need to give up our habit of labeling certain creatures as villains and others as angelic visitors. A brief encounter with a four-foot long rattlesnake compels the author to empathize with this creature who is part of the same ecosystem that we are.
Reading these stories you will tutored in how to have a reverent eye. Keen's way of looking at things enriches our respect for the birds and all their mysteries. The author says that these beings have opened new vistas for him, inspired him to ask new questions, made his imagination soar, and caused his spirit to expand. They can do the same for you.