We have a lot of birds in our backyard, and Rock Creek Park is filled right now with migrating birds heading further north after their stop in the mid-Atlantic region. We even have a pair of tiny warblers (I think) nesting on our deck. Some might find the crack-of-dawn choruses raucous if not downright annoying, but I love these daily concerts.
Birds are often used symbolically to describe the work of the Holy Spirit, the dove of God’s grace descending on us. They give form to the concept of soul, appearing as a messenger between the human and divine. One of music’s more colorful composers, Olivier Messiaen (1908-1992), was fascinated with birds. He was also an unabashedly deeply spiritual composer, writing much music that he believed expressed what he called “the marvelous aspects of faith”—among which he numbered Christ’s nativity, crucifixion, resurrection, transfiguration and ascension. He explored these aspects of faith in works such as La Nativité du Seigneur (“The Lord’s nativity”) for organ and Vingt regards sur l’enfant-Jésus (“Twenty gazes on the Christ-child”) for piano.
In his Réveil des oiseaux (“Dawn chorus”), Oiseaux exotiques (“Exotic birds”) and Catalogue d’oiseaux (“Bird catalogue”) he meticulously captured not only actual bird songs, but the landscape and atmosphere around the birds. I have to wonder if his enormous interest in ornithology was motivated in part by a desire to musically capture that other “marvelous aspect of faith” – the Holy Spirit.
Birds are everywhere these days. We’re told that God is everywhere. And God told us that he will not leave us comfortless (John 14:18). Let this spring’s inescapable concert of birdsong remind you that we’re also surrounded by God’s loving presence. And for just a few minutes let the music of English composer William Byrd – pun intended – be your connection between the human and divine.