Earlier today I was walking down the hall on our third floor. The windows there give a generous view of our cloister -- the garden, the fountains, the walkways that border the large inner area on four sides.
I looked up at the roof of the church and saw the pigeons perched along the roof top. There were about 30 of them, all in a row. There was a space between each of them. I do not know why they do that. I suppose it is some kind of instinctive behavior that dictates enough room for roosting, for leverage, and maybe for taking flight.
I pass by those windows several times a day and more often than not the pigeons are there, all in a row, taking in the sun or, like today, getting a bit of rain. I am sure they will be back again tomorrow. And the day after.
It is what birds do, and do very well. They keep to predictable routines, seemingly letting the world go by as they watch on high, from the tops of churches, on wires, on buildings and steeples all throughout the country.
I am writing on election day. I went out earlier and cast my votes for those men and women who are running for elected offices. A lot of people are willing to take on great responsibilities in order to serve the common good. They will work hard for the betterment of American society and, hopefully, enhance our country's potential to improve the state of affairs among the many countries of the world.
It is an enormous task. But it is a task that can only move forward in one way, and that way is based on individual choice. It can be daunting to look out at the world and to try and figure out a way to improve it.
I suppose most of us, and surely the most idealistic among us, see the world as a problem to be grasped and somehow solved. But it is not too long before we realize that improvement is made up of singular steps taken by solitary people -- people who know through trial and error that the best communities are made up of those who prize the value and contribution of the individual.
We all want to belong, to contribute, to make better. The first steps in learning how to do these things take place with and among a like-minded group, most importantly, a group that is open to learning from other groups. A group that does not see difference as a threat. A group that does not place high qualifications on those who are deemed worthy to belong. A group grows to the extent that it realizes that everyone has a right to belong.
I recently read something I really liked. I came across it on an Internet blog. It was only one line, and it read, "If you want to know God, make it a point to get to know everybody." Advice like that sure moves one to a different level in one's search for God.
In fact, it kind of involves everybody in the search. No one is excluded. Everyone somehow belongs. We are then talking a different language -- a God-like language. It is a higher way of seeing things.
Which brings me back to the pigeons. They are not here to change the world. From where they perch, so high up, they can see so far and wide. They are content to stay here, live their lives, and, well, be birds. But they do it together, always careful to leave each other a bit of space, of breathing room. It works for them.
I watch them, and somehow think that it can work for us, too. We all need a little space, a little place from which to see the world. We each have our gifts, something to contribute to the whole of the human race.
We need to learn when to rest and watch, and when to take flight. To give each other a space apart, but always somehow together. It is a better way, I think, of seeing each other, and God, all at once.
Maybe that is why God made birds, to say something through them.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.