You Won’t See Unless You Look

When I was in high school I took up bird watching and found lots of rare birds.  I would go to places and habitats at times of years where a rare bird might occur.  There would be a flock of thousands of birds and I’d pick through every one, on many occasions, on the off chance that one time I’d find something out of the ordinary.  And I would often find something that didn’t belong–a bird from Argentina in Arkansas, for instance.

I’m no longer the serious birder I once was, but I still look for birds and I still check for rarities.  Today I was flipping through The Sibley Guide to Birds and I found these lines in the introduction: “Most birders who find rare birds are looking for rare birds.  This is not to say that one can find a rarity simply by looking for it, but the observer who is prepared will find rare species far more often than the observer who is not.”  Sibley goes on to say that the people who find rarities have “an intimate knowledge of the common species” and “an open mind” to the appearance of a bird that doesn’t look “quite right.”  

So much of this is true of  the life of faith.  To experience the ecstatic, the real tangible glimpses of God we must spend a lot of time with the common species.  We have to go out day to day with the regular prayer, the regular Bible study, the rote Sabbaths.  But if we are open and expectant, constantly looking for that moment or insight that doesn’t quite fit, then we will find God more often than those who aren’t expectant and looking.  Many people see a bird out the window and it is a just a bird, others see a bird and realize it is one of over a thousand possibilities.

About Ragan Sutterfield

Ragan Sutterfield is a writer and Episcopal seminarian sojourning from his native Arkansas in Alexandria, Virginia. He is the author of Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us, Farming as a Spiritual Discipline and a contributor to the book Sacred Acts: How churches are working to protect the Earth’s climate. Ragan’s articles and essays have appeared in a variety of magazines including Triathlete, The Oxford American, and Books & Culture. He works to live the good life with his wife Emily and daughter Lillian.


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