What a Magpie Taught Me About the Spiritual Life

Source: Pixabay

This week, I was reminded on social media about already dated, but still very endearing, video that focused on an Australian magpie named Penguin. The story focused on how Penguin, a chick that fell out of her nest, was cared for by the Bloom family of Newport, New South Wales. The central thread of the story was not so much Penguin, but the effect that she had on Sam, who sunk into a deep depression following an accident. Without saying it in so many words, Penguin became an event that drew Sam out of herself, out of the internalising vortex of depression.What was significant was the way the video ended, in which Sam spoke of caring for the magpie as a spiritual process, with Penguin (now long gone from the family home) being spoken of as an angel that came at the right time.

There is a link between divinity and animality that can be discussed in a later post. For now, it is interesting to note Sam’s evaluation of being drawn out of herself by caring for Penguin, as a spiritual process. The link between spirituality and being comported outward into the world is a crucial, yet often neglected aspect of Christian spirituality. In the course of following a seemingly modern trend of turning spirituality into an exclusively individual, and mainly inward, movement, we forget the incarnational core of the Christian faith. The horizontal dimension of the things of this world, put in their rightful place as a creature of God, is not a distraction from the vertical orientation of spirituality. Rather, in the words of Emmanuel Falque (interviewed by Artur Rosman of the University of Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal), ” it is from our horizontality that verticality is spoken”, and the anthropological glue that holds the vertical and the horizontal together is the act of being drawn out of one’s interiority towards another.

In the component of his Theology of the Body which looked at the creation of the woman in Genesis 2:23, Pope St John Paul II spoke of the significant moment of horizontal attraction of the man towards the woman, which was marked by the first time Adam is recorded as speaking. The man was drawn out of himself towards the woman, and in that moment, the divine act of creating the man was complete. Adam being drawn out of himself towards Eve analogically participated in being in the image of God.

This is significant when considering Graham Ward’s observation on modern and postmodern urban life. In Cities of God (40), Ward suggested that since the turn of the twentieth century, cities employed the architectural language of light to provide anthropological signposts for its citizens. In doing so, however, Ward noticed that the light was not the transcendent light of Plato, which placed the source of that light outside the mind of the citizen. Rather, the light of the city was the internalised light of individual reasoning. In other words, as suggested elsewhere, urban residents are drawn out by the city, only to have them loop back into their own individual interiority. City living nowadays is a lifeform where navel gazing is the constant common pastime.

Without meaning to denigrate the importance of an interior life, it is equally important that Christians not play into this exclusively interiorising trajectory of city living, particularly as more and more Christians flock to urban centres. For an interiority that seals Christians off from neighbour and creation is contrary to the Christian tradition. If God made flesh is an event in history, then God is found in the other, and that means the interface must be located in the outward orientation of the human person.

 

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