It is so much fun to watch swifts wheeling and zigzagging in the sky covering the distance of a 100 yards in about three seconds. Mosquitoes, beware! It’s nice to know that this feathered bunch will destroy about 10 kilograms of insects a day. And on top of that they exude an air of sheer delight – they seem to be happy to be birds. Their jolly tweets are sweet music to the ear, their wheeling up and down is a dance of joy, their zigzagging is playfulness itself.
However, most of modern-day documentaries on animal life (National Geographic, for instance) often leave us with an impression that their life is all about survival. To us, humans, the life of animals and birds seems harmonious and peaceful but in reality those dumb creatures have to fight for survival every waking moment. Nature is cruel. The lion has to get an antelope every day or it will get weak and won’t be able to outrun the slowest antelope tomorrow. The migrating birds have to eat so much food every day to get enough fat and be able to make it to the South when the time comes. Sparrows have to fight over a crumb to prevent their species from going extinct.
The life of nature is often portrayed as hell. We may be mesmerized by a butterfly fluttering around but if only we knew that this very moment it’s being chased by a sparrow that will gobble it up in no time. We may be delighted with the sight of little fish flitting between out feet in the shallow waters but little do we know that they are actually hiding from the jaws of the predators lurking in the deep. We are told that our eyes deceive us. The natural world only looks like heaven but is really hell. The nature’s peace is an illusion, a curtain behind which there’s a world of survival where the fittest gets the prize.
Maybe we should wake up? The swifts only seem to enjoy their life and feeding, but in reality they just follow their instincts – feeding their young to have their species go on. Cats only seem to bask in the sun –they have to sleep because they need to get strong enough to catch a bird and survive another day. The trouble is that as soon as a person adopts this view he cannot stay sane. Scientism, or faith in science, deprives the person of joy. He cannot, without contradiction, enjoy a river – he knows it’s just H2O. He cannot, without breaking his own mind, believe that nightingales enjoy singing – they must do it as survival mechanism.
No one can live like that. Such a mentality splits the person in half. His convictions say: “The swifts only seem to be happy. They act that way to survive”. But next summer he will still, most likely, go to the nature – to listen to birds, see the river flowing, watch an otter diving, enjoy the sight of fish playing in the water. Nature gives him joy that his reason does not allow for. The person infected with scientism is hopelessly divided in his mind. He feels an urge to delight in the butterfly’s fluttery dance but he knows too much about what’s “really” going on.
Jesus subverts this gloomy theory when he tells us to look at birds and learn from them how to be without a care in the world. What we, in the age of scientism, view as survival, is actually joy in the care of the Father. According to Jesus, birds are an example of freedom from care. To our “scientific” mind they seem burdened with the necessity of fighting for life – especially to those is us who spends too much time watching National Geographic. The Sermon on the Mount however blows up scientism – the birds are made an example of a happy disposition. If we look up and learn from the swifts we will know how to live, not just survive. They will teach us to receive what we are given – every day.
Life is not about survival or fighting for resources where the fittest gets its reward – the continuation of its species. The message of nature is strikingly opposite. It teaches us to rest. Nature draws us to itself precisely because its disposition is contrary to ours. We are restless. It is restful. There’s no sin in nature – it was subjected to futility because of us. But there’s still purity in it. There’s rest even in its most violent storms. The nature’s message is “don’t be anxious about tomorrow”. Look at the swifts. Don’t just survive, live. Don’t try to get what you can’t have – there’s always something already there. Open your eyes every morning with a confidence – there will be manna today and it’s time to collect it.
What’s life for you? A survival in the jungle or playing, soaring, tumbling, freewheeling, gathering the gifts that have been scattered by someone who loves us? When I look at swifts each morning I hear their message. “Fly with us”, they call to me and so I fly… or try…