Monday, February 25, 2013

Sunday Matins with Grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus)

As a church worker, my Sunday mornings have little in the way of resemblance to those who are Monday-Friday workaday types. Rather than dream away sleepily about the golf game I'll be playing later in the day, I'm usually up between 3:30 and 4:30 and out the door between 4:00 and 5:00 AM (5:00 is uncomfortably late as this is only 2 hours before people start arriving for 8:00 AM worship). Anyway, as is often the case with early risers it is of vital importance to consume coffee and pastries as soon as possible and on one particular morning at around 4:00 AM I faced the rest of the morning with neither because I'd skipped grocery shopping the day before and I was headed to church before the local Shipley's Doughnuts had opened. That left only one option Walmart (thank you Sam Walton for 24/7 shopping convenience bliss).

Emerging from Walmart, secure in "the feast to come," I took a moment to observe the Grackles that are a regular fixture of the "parking lot wilderness" in my neck of the woods. Literally thousands of these medium small birds had descended from the safety of the trees and begun congregating in large groups across the parking lot. As I looked at them, I became very curious as to what was going on here. While its true that the early bird gets the worm, this was still three hours before even a hint of sun would show itself on the eastern horizon and it was pretty darn cold for houstonians at least. The temperature had dipped into the low forties during the night, cold enough to see ones breath upon exhaling. They hadn't descended into comfy insulting grass either. They were massing together on the cold hardness of the parking lot itself. I thought to myself that this couldn't be nearly as comfortable as alighting in and among the insulted branches of a tree and yet here they were. What could possibly be going on here.

I will pause for a moment in the interests of full disclosure. I realize that what follows is blatant anthropomorphization. I am to be hopefully forgiven for this for two reasons:

  1.  There is no method by which I may simply ask one of these creatures what on earth they are thinking. We don't speak anywhere near the same language. 
  2. Even while I am aware that these delicate creatures are in fact the living decedents of theropod dinosaurs, which separates us by more than twigs in the tree of life ( and even more than large branches for that matter), we do both have brains and we are vertebrates. Might we take a pause to question the hubris that says that we share nothing of our intelligences. We do, after all, somewhere in the vault of history share an ancestor. We humans are a part of the natural world, no matter how hard we try to separate our selves from it. From a biblical or a natural perspective, whether emerging from the foam of evolutionary randomness or as a key player that was and always has been a part of, and not separate from, the biblical creation story, We are part of the same story. Is it to much to believe that we might share more than our backbones? Might not it be possible that the grey matter in our skulls is not completely distinct and that in as much as we see our wildness reflected in the creatures of earth, might not our intelligence be in some way a part of their nature as well. We all come from the same stuff, and while its crazy to imagine that their minds are exactly as ours, can we cut the little creatures of the earth a little slack and at least consider the prospect that they might see the world like us in part?
Full disclosure provided, I now continue.

As I watched these spirited little beings milling around each other.  There weren't a lot of pecking at the ground and foraging.  There was more of a community of sorts happening.  There wasn't a lot of motion either.  Instead there rose from this gaggle of birds, a sustained mass of sound as they gathered together.  Not surprisingly this reminded me of church, as I was about to get into my vehicle and head to a church of my own.  This image struck me as a particularly beautiful one.

This was Matins.  What is Matins?:

Matins is the monastic nighttime liturgy, ending at dawn, of the canonical hours. As standardized in the Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours, it is divided into three Nocturns. The name "Matins" originally referred to the morning office also known as Lauds. When the nocturnal monastic services called Vigils or Nocturns were joined with Lauds, the name of "Matins" was applied at first to the concluding morning service and later still to the entire series of Vigils.[1]

Here was this large gathering of grackles, beginning their day by calling to each other and coming together as a group, just as we come to church as one and with one voice call to the creator.  The Sun had yet to rise and these birds were beginning their day in a way reminiscent of how, perhaps, we should all begin our days, in community with the creator and each other.  It's a stretch I know, but for that moment, early on a Sunday morning, I joined in with the grackles and experienced Matins, my morning prayers, with the whimsical, tenacious, and curious grackle.

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