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Wood Pigeon

On the front lawn There is a bundle of green and white feathers. A woodpigeon. A dead one. We have a lot of trees in our neighbourhood and a very busy road, which is not a good combination for wood pigeons. They are great big ungainly birds and before they have acquired a sense of self preservation the young ones are inclined to accidental jousts with cars. The cars seldom lose. This bird has just won the silver medal in a bout with a Toyota Camry and has retired as far as our front lawn before becoming considerably short of breath. I go out with a shovel and dig a hole in the flower garden, and go a pick up the carcase.

I love these birds. Their feathers have a rich metallic sheen, and the green and white of their plumage reflects back every shade of red - but just in suggestion, depending on how the sunlight catches them. They are preposterous in their clumsiness. They fly overhead with no pretense at stealth, making a sound like a pair of old fashioned manual hedge cutters with each laboured thrust of their wings. They land desperately on twigs and power lines and rock back and forth, gaining equilibrium and dignity over a minute or so as they come to rest. Tiny heads and huge bodies. No wonder they hit cars. They do have one impressive trick, though, which takes advantage of their generous girths. They painfully flap their way to the top of something very tall, sit there for a while catching their breath and then fling themselves at the ground in a breakneck dive. Just about the point of terminal velocity they pull out of the dive and allow their momentum to carry them back up into the air in a climb as steep as the dive. When they stall at the top of their climb, they point themselves downward, and without a single flap of the wings, do the whole thing again. They thus maneuvre their way across the forest canopy in a series of great U shaped sweeps. I'd dearly love to be able to do it.

There used to be thousands of them moving about in great flocks. The arrival of firstly the Maori and then the Pakeha soon put a stop to that. Wood pigeons are dim, tasty and conveniently family sized, so the flocks are long gone. They now get about singly or in pairs, and, for the past few years protected from hunting, keep themselves just above the endangered species line by dodging the depredations of cats and rats and motor cars. Or at least mostly. I look at this one lying stiffly on the shovel. Her feathers are still pure white and irridescent green. She is beautiful but very dead.

What is it that animated this body only a few minutes ago, and where has it gone? Thousands of her forbears have disappeared into the cooking pots of the settlers and the hangis of the Tangata Whenua and nothing now remains of any single one of them, not even a memory. I am aware that her dim little consciousness was smaller than mine, but it's only a matter of degree, not of type. One day, as I have recently been sharply reminded, I will follow her and her many ancestors and mine into a similar oblivion.

Although I know that I originate in eternity, will return to eternity and can participate in eternity in this time between, a day will come when nothing will remain here of me, not even a memory . Ernest Becker says that the knowledge of our death and our wish to deny its inevitability is the motive behind most human endeavour but I think that what we need is not to deny our deaths, but recognise it as inevitable. This is why Ignatius Loyola's spiritual exercises include meditations on our own deaths. So, I bury this bundle of meat and feathers and think about what is and what is not there on the end of the shovel. What is buried is temporary, like the consciousness that so recently animated it. If we want to find what is truly lasting, we will need to look elsewhere: not at those things which come into existence, are for a while and then fade away; the body and our own temporary consciousness. We need to look, rather, at that thing - accessible to us all but ignored by most of us - which is truly eternal.


Anonymous said…
No Coward Soul Is Mine
a poem by Emily Bronte

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world's storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven's glories shine,
And Faith shines equal, arming me from Fear.

O God within my breast,
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life, that in me has rest,
As I, undying Life, have power in Thee!.

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move men's hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thy infinity,
So surely anchored on
The steadfast rock of Immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and moon were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.
Kelvin Wright said…
Isn't it odd how these things work? I was watching a DVD of BBC production of Anne Bronte's The Tenant Of Wlidfell Hall, and during a break between episodes, downloaded my email containing your poem by Emily Bronte.

There is the same Gothic intensity in the works of the two sisters, and I was amazed how Emily had so graphically expressed what I alluded to.

Thank you.
Kate said…
"it's only a matter of degree, not of type." I believe this too, Kelvin. But, for some reason, thought you wouldn't... Do many clergy these days agree with you?
I'm sure my intoning Anglican minister back when I was ten and singing in the church choir, would not have. Or maybe just didn't admit to it...
Kelvin Wright said…
Hi Katherine. Some Anglican clergy, though not many, believe the world was created in 6 days. Some, though not many, seem to have no belief in God or the spirit whatsoever. Most of us are somewhere in the middle.

I think a very fair summary of what Anglicans believe is contained in the little booklet "A Beginners Guide To The Anglican Church" written by Alan Firth. You can find it on our website
From feedback I receive this would simply sum up the belief system of many Anglican Clergy. My own belief system is absolutely compatible with Alan's summary.

Oddly, I don't discuss theology or spiritual matters with many Anglican clergy - a few, but not many. I discuss such things with lay people, with Roman Catholic priests, with Presbyterian and Pentecostal ministers, with people of other faiths or of no faith at all. So, I don't really know what many of my colleagues really believe.

We are in an odd position as clergy. Our charge is to take care of other people's spiritual growth and not our own. Also, as employees many of us are obligated to protect the interests of the organisation and toe a party line. These two factors mean that some (note SOME) clergy do lose touch with their inner sense of the Spirit and become the sort of intoning caricatures you seem to be familiar with. I remember the one day I seriously doubted my vocation: old boys day at my theological college,when I was in my mid 20s, when dozens of old blokes with gray suits and parsonical voices descended on the place and I had an unsettling glimpse of my future.

Things have changed. Over the past few weeks I've sat in church as a congregant rather than as a priest and I have been most impressed with the two colleagues who were filling in for me. Both spoke well, were well researched and spoke from a well honed personal spirituality.

The Anglican church is currently in a state of flux. Some might say, a state of meltdown. I look on in bemusement and don't recognise much of it anymore as the organisation I joined almost 40 years ago. Perhaps I am less typical of mainline Anglicanism (if there is such a thing) as I try to tell myself.
Anonymous said…
L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature ; mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser : une vapeur, une goutte d’eau, suffit pour le tuer. Mais, quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, puisqu’il sait qu’il meurt, et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui, l’univers n’en sait rien. Toute notre dignité consiste donc en la pensée.
- Pascal, Fragment 348
Anonymous said…
What next, Swahili?

"Man is only a reed, weakest of nature; but it is a thinking reed. It is not necessary that the whole universe is armed to crush it: a vapor, a water drop, is enough to kill it. But, when the universe would crush it, the man would be even nobler than what kills it, since even if he dies the advantage which the universe has on him is unknown to the universe. All our dignity thus consists of thought."

Inclusiveness is the enemy of hubris.
Kelvin Wright said…
Sorry to be pedantic here, but your quote from the Pensees is fragment 347, not 348 and the part of fragment you left off the end is the best bit:

"C'est de là qu'il faut nous relever, non de l'espace et de la durée. Travaillons donc à bien penser. voilà le principe de la morale."

By it we must elevate
ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us
endeavour, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.

Fragment 348, though does sum it all up more succinctly:

"l est dangereux de trop faire voir à l'homme combien il est égal aux bêtes, sans lui montrer sa grandeur. Il est encore dangereux de lui faire voir sa grandeur sans sa bassesse. Il est encore plus dangereux de lui laisser ignorer l'un et l'autre. [175] Mais il est très avantageux de lui représenter l'un et l'autre."

"_A thinking reed._--It is not from space that I must seek my dignity,but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world."
Anonymous said…
Je pense que vous avez raison d'inclure à la fois les versets. Cela ne donne le plein sens de ce que Pascal cherche à dire.
Anonymous said…
El desconocido a usted mi amigo está ése en estos postings que usted se está ocupando realmente escritura de dos de diversa personas en francés. Esto es qué sucede cuando la gente intenta y demuestra apagado. Si usted habla los ingleses entonces escriben en inglés. Es una manera de la escritura inclusiva que satisface a audiencia de habla inglesa. Todo lo demás es justo teniendo un ego grande.
Espero las marcas inglesas- del software de la traducción esto legible usted
Kelvin Wright said…
1 Corinthians 12:30-31
Kelvin Wright said…
...and 13:1, of course
Anonymous said…
1 Corinthians 14:9 - is better and really the whole point I was making to your first french speaker.
Anonymous said…
Hola. No entiendo completamente tu electrónico español, pero si se quiere, en el futuro voy a hablar y escribir en demótico. He siempre amado las obras de Pascal - en frances y en ingles. Hasta luego.
Anonymous said…
Demotic? Intriguing, but you still miss the point.
Anonymous said…
Nicht zum ersten Mal, leider. Aber wie ich vorher gesagt habe, werde ich nicht mehr auf Fremdsprachen Zitaten bieten, wenn ich etwas ueber das von unserem wohlgeehrten hochwuerdigen Bloggastgeber ausgewaehltes Thema aussprechen will, und ich danke Dir um Deine Einverstaendnis. Bis spaeter!
Anonymous said…
eheu! dolor nobis maxima est neminem hic adhuc illa lingua sanctissima usum esse, quae rebus sacris idoneissima est. saepe enim multis in locis per orbem terrarum dixi: si lingua latina satis bona Deo est, satis bona nobis!
Cura et vale!

Benedictus XVI P.P.
Anonymous said…
Please continue to use French and Latin quotations wherever it is appropriate to do so, they add a richness to this blog that is important as does your learning and intelligence - but B you still miss the point really.

Meditation for you:

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Question: What have you learnt?
Anonymous said…
Reed (bruised but still thinking - albeit wishfully -)said:
What have I learned?
Answer: That Douglas Adams was onto a good thing when he invented the concept of the Babel Fish.
Anonymous said…
Pills and ointments don't work here you have to think really hard.

DG is a diversion but interesting nevertheless,

The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy received not from its own carrier but from those around it, it absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. the practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language.
Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes like this: "I refuse to prove that I exist", says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."
"But", says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? it could not have evolved by chance. it proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED."
"Oh dear", says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.
"Oh that was easy" says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.
Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.
Kathryn said…
I, too, love the wood pigeon, they are so beautiful. It is very sad that they are becoming so rare. I was so happy to see them and to take a few photos of one or two during my recent trip back to NZ. But my photos are nothing like yours, Kelvin. This photograph is so beautiful and with your permission, I will use it, for my own pleasure, of course.
I believe, that not just humans, but all creatures have great importance to God. He created us all, such a diverse group of living things, so different from each other. And it is up to us, as humans, to care for and respect all His creation.
I'm so happy to know that you cared for this beautiful bird's burial in your own garden. There is nothing more sure in this world, than that we will all meet this end.
I love Emily Bronte's poem.
"I see Heaven's glories shine,
And Faith shines equal, arming me from Fear"
Thanks for sharing.
Anonymous said…
Kelvin, something just struck me funny about the poem "No Coward Soul is Mine" and that is that I sent it and was afraid to send it under my own name in case you disapproved. I have always found clergymen quite daunting, having been slapped down a time or two by various of them (excluding, of course, my present spouse!. Therefore, I will give you the following quotation because of all the forgoing learned parrying one sometimes has to wade through on your wonderful blog:

Tweedledum in Alice in Wonderland
I'm very brave generally only today I happen to have a headache
Anonymous said…
These are very revealing words Janice "having been slapped down a time or two by various of them". So have I.

Daunting? LOL LOL LOL!!

Be brave girl and sock it right back.
Kelvin Wright said…
Thats what the photos are there for, Kathryn. I'm pleased you've got a use for it. I took maybe a half dozen shots of that bird on that particular day. If you want the others I can email them to you - although it'll be a fairly long download if you haven't got broadband.

This is not the first wood pigeon/car encounter I've dealt with. A few months ago a bird got hit and lived. I took it to a woman on the other side of town who runs a wood pigeon hospital - i kid you not. She had about 30-40 of them in a huge aviary, all recovering from various mishaps. She assured me that the one I brought to her would be well and returned to the wild in a few weeks. She hand feeds the injured ones frozen peas, nature's wonder food for wood pigeons, apparantly.
Kathryn said…
My sister and I retrieved a white Corella from a dog a few weeks ago and took it to a local vet who specialises in birds. He passed it on to a voluntary carer. The bird was mainly shocked I think.
But he fought hard when we tried to put him in a cage for the car, and he had a very big, sharp beak!
Anonymous said…
Good post.

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