The Liminal Space of BIRD WATCHING ~ Cindy Elliott

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When we do not believe that G-d renews the work of creation every day, then our religious practice becomes old and routine and boring.
As it say in the Psalms, “Do not cast me off when I am old.”
That is, do not let my world become old.
– Martin Buber [1]

Human beings must cherish the world, said the Baal Shem. To deprecate, to deride it was presumption. Creation, all of creation, was pervaded with dignity and purpose and embodied G-d’s meaning.
– Abraham Joshua Heschel [2]

Always an avid birdwatcher, it struck me this morning that many birds seem to make their home in liminal space. Living near the Texas shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico, I see birds who live their lives on the water’s edge. Others move between water and air. In my backyard, birds live in the air, on the ground, or where the bushes meet the trees.

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This family of wrens made their home in my bicycle helmet, blending the boundaries between humans and birds.

It also struck me that my daily habit of sitting in my den watching and listening to the birds is an every-day liminal space in time. Somehow my big overstuffed chair becomes a vessel of liminality. Every morning I sit down and when I get up – I am changed.

320954_2432363493115_2144506497_nSometimes it is the cooing of the mourning-dove that calms my thoughts and helps me rest. Other times when a painted bunting, a little ruby-throated hummingbird, a male cardinal in all his glory, or a number of other feathered friends with their bursts of color visit our feeders, I am reminded of the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Never lose an opportunity of seeing anything that is beautiful, for beauty is G-d’s handwriting – a sacrament.

And I praise our Abba for allowing me to be a part of something so marvelous – to feel as Abraham Heschel said, “…in the rush of passing the stillness of the eternal.”

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Others times as the cooper hawk takes flight and transcends the earth to be caught up in the winds, I feel the rekindling of hopes and dreams I have pushed aside, forgotten, or given up on. Always the sweet niggun of the birds stirs a song in my own spirit. And, without exception, every day I am challenged and every day I am surprised.

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The sparrow has also found her home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young – Your altars, Lord of Host, my King and my G-d.
Psalm 84:4

Today it was a little immigrant [3] – the house sparrow – that G-d used to move me to a place of changing. As the chatter of the little sparrow blended with my prayers, an article came to mind about the Singing Stones of the Kotel [4] where the songs of the nesting birds mix with the prayers of the people. It seems swallows, house sparrows, and the common swift all consider the stones of the Western Wall the perfect place to build a home. There is a midrash drawn from Psalm 84:4 telling how the humble birds are aware of the holiness of the Temple and yearn to build their nests there. [5] And if a little bird can have such awareness – such a sensitivity to holiness – how much more should I?

How lovely are Your dwelling places,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living G-d.
The sparrow also has found her home,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my G-d.
How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You.
Psalm 84:1-4

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~ Cindy Elliott

If you enjoyed this you might also enjoy Niggun of The Birds

1. Martin Buber as recorded in This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew
2. Abraham Joshua Herschel, Passion For Truth, p. 24
3. The house sparrow was first introduced from Europe. Considered by many a pest, the little songbird is one of my favorites.
4. Chabad.org
5. Rabbi natan Slifkin, Perek Shirah Natures Song, p. 229
photo credit – copyright: Ekaterina Lin, 123rf.com, sparrow on the Western Wall

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