"The birdsong is different here, full of unfamiliar cadences and unfamiliar melodies. These birds are making different music than the bids outside my window in America, and this fills me with wonder.

"I do not often stop to realize how different the music of nature is in each place on earth. But something about this birdsong makes me pause and take notice. It fills me, in a way far deeper than intellect, with a humble awareness of the beauty and mystery of the world around me.

"Do they know each other? Are they talking to each other? Is their exuberance truly in their voices, or only in my hearing?

"Does each mother know the chirp of her young, as each human mother can pick out the cry of her own infant from the voices of all others? Do they feel love?

"These are the questions this birdsong calls forth in me. They lean me toward God and the ineffable mystery of life.

"Our lives are filled with moments like these — ordinary moments when the hidden beauty of life breaks into our everyday awareness like an unbidden shaft of light. It is a brush with the sacred, a near occasion of grace.

"Too often we are blind to these moments. We are busy with our daily obligations and too occupied with our comings and goings to surround our hearts with the quiet that is necessary to hear life's softer songs.

"There is no shame in this. We are only human, and the demands of life make a raucous noise. But we must not let those demands drown out the quieter voices of the spirit. We must take the time to stop and listen, knowing that the voice of the spirit speaks more often in a whisper than a shout.

"For spirituality is far more than religious practice. It is a cast of mind, a leaning of the heart, a willingness to see the shadow of the divine mystery in all people and all things. It is feeling the presence of God in every encounter, and seeing the reflection of the divine in the face of every person we meet on the street.

"The Confucian philosopher Zou Shouyi said that we too often fail to recognize wisdom in those without talent, achievement, and fame. Jesus, in the Beatitudes, tells us to look to the meek, the poor in spirit, and the pure in heart. The Native Americans tell us to look at the elderly, because their lives have walked the long path toward wisdom.

"They all are reminding us that the traces of the sacred are everywhere before our eyes, and that our task, as surely as performing acts of worship, is to find these sacred moments, hallow them with our attention, and raise them up as a celebration of the mystery of life.

"The birds are quieting now. The traffic in the streets, the angle of the sun, or something more mystical and inexpressible has told them that they have sung enough.

"But the silence they leave in their wake stays with me.

"Like the fading echo of a church bell, they have lodged in my heart, and no church, no religious text, could do more than their gentle song to incline my heart towards God."