birds and the art of the spiritual life

This diamond bird broach is six inches high and would have been quite the fashion statement in its day when work on the chest of a lady in black.

The bird is a frequent symbol in religious art and often represents the Holy Spirit, but turns up frequently in scriptures and religious art as well … the dove of the flood, the dove of the divine speech, the phoenix from disaster, the eagle of Saint John to mention a few.

In western culture we make reference to “the canary in the mine shaft” – the caged bird which dies in the presence of subterranean gasses, warning miners to evacuate. I am aware that the merging of the images of the mine shaft bird and the Holy Spirit bird make a powerful statement about how we discern voices as we make our way in life.

For me, the Holy Spirit shows up best when she nudges me.  She helps me to pay attention to signs and symbols in life when God is trying to catch my attention: “Look at this!” she says with a twinkle and a wink.

The thing is that I need to be living a life such that I can see that the bird has something to say.  Taking the canary in the mind shaft analogy, I need to notice …well… that the canary just died!

So I need a Rule of Life which so slows down my life and so allows my attention so that I can sense that the Holy Spirit is trying to get my attention.  Then I need to have the time and the silence to imagine what to do about having seen her nudge me or point at something or warn me about something.

The art of the spiritual life is not in making good choices – that is the art of the human life.  The art of the Spiritual Life is in the listening we do BEFORE the choices are made.

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