Busy as the weekend was (with holidays fast approaching), a few moments of abundant joy found their way into my hectic space. I hadn’t planned for this to happen. In fact I was so frazzled that I might have missed out altogether. Sometimes you just get lucky.
In the Christian tradition, it’s the beginning of Advent, the hopeful season of great anticipation before Christmas. To be truthful, I hadn’t given it much thought. You might say I tripped over my own version: an awareness that something wondrous is humming under the surface of existence, ready to break into the ordinary world. Now and again I sense this, whatever the season.
Here’s how it started: Between Saturday grocery-shopping and household chores, we made a trip to a local birders-supply store where a skilled bird-handler was visiting with his beautiful Great Horned Owl, Alex. By law, raptors may only be owned for educational purposes (or by licenced falconers), and this astonishing bird had all of us — especially the kids — as wide-eyed as the owl.
Her sheer size, her golden eyes and the layered beauty of her feathers was breathtaking. And yes, the rapport between bird and man had me shaking my head in wonder. Alex sat still, talons resting on her keeper’s gloved hand, then turned her head from side to side, appearing to co-operate with a battery of smartphones by eyeing the flash at exactly the right moment.
There was more. In the back of the store, a woman from the Canadian Peregrine Foundation was demonstrating her Peregrine Falcon, until recently an endangered species. For those of you who don’t know, falcons are among nature’s natural-born killers. Small and streamlined, these feathered fighter-jets can fly at speeds of two hundred kilometres an hour in pursuit of whatever hapless bird gets in the way.
But not Oscar, described by his keeper, as “my boy.” The little guy (15 years old), born in captivity, “imprinted” on his human mother. He’s gentle, doesn’t fuss much (except for an occasional wing-flap). He’ll never be mature enough to live in the wild, but he and his loving mom make the rounds of schools to introduce children to a magnificent creature they might never otherwise see.
And just in case you think nothing can surprise you, watch this little falcon pecking at “mama’s” nose and her pats and kisses in return. She’s proud of Oscar. She loves this little guy, she’s given fifteen years of her life to his care and as far as I could tell, Oscar is a happy and remarkably affectionate raptor.
The human capacity for love in all its forms is a wonder.
And who’s to say that the falcon, in his own unknowable falcon-ish way, can’t love her back?
I carried this delightful experience in my heart all day and brought it with me to Mass on Saturday evening to observe the beginning of Advent. We attended an intimate campus gathering — a beautiful, simple liturgy that spoke to the awakening of life in these dark days. It conveyed a sense of the wondrous about to break through the surface of ordinary life. It was a beautiful call to the spirit to be watchful, to remain awake.
The following morning at breakfast, I looked out the window and saw a hawk.
I’m new to bird-watching and I’d never spotted one on my own before, not at such close range. It glided down — a good-sized creature — then perched on the hedge close to the window. I glimpsed its slate-coloured back, its ruddy chest, its magnificent aquiline profile. No doubt it was a Cooper’s Hawk. It seemed like an apparition.
After a moment, it spread its wings and flew.
A day later, as I was writing this blog, the hawk returned.
Native Americans see the hawk as a messenger, a creature which embodies wisdom, clear vision and insight; also as one which carries our prayers to the Great Spirit. In the classical framework of Western theology, the idea doesn’t work. We’re linear thinkers and therefore we live inside of time. Yet if we remove time from the equation, if we consider an eternal “present,” then reality shifts. The hawk is always there, waiting to open our eyes.
Some say that all things are possible with God.
Yet faith (or lack of it) doesn’t change the picture. Gifts abound, even on the most ordinary day. It’s far from a perfect world, but we can’t blame the hawks for that. Or even the falcons.
In this holiday season, I wish you moments of wonder.