This morning, while shaving, I heard a fluttering of wings through the open bathroom window. I looked out quickly to see a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the fence, looking around. I love birds of prey, and these birds frequent our house. Soon I saw a blur come up from under the giant Mexican Elder in the corner of the yard (aka, The Whomping Willow). In a flash the hawk snagged the bird in its talons and flew off over the fence. Later that morning, during my prayers, I saw a flash of banded brown and grey dash by the window. When I looked at the bird feeder it was ominously empty—I suspect an immature Sharpshin or Coopers. Then, while Karisse was sitting on the couch watching the feeder there was a sudden flurry of wings and an adult Sharpshin just missed a House Finch and ended up standing on the ground, looking at the plate-glass window at her before shooting off down the hill. This morning is the Morning of the Hawk. We can hardly be surprised. When I put out food in the morning it’s just minutes before the Gambel’s Quail, House Finches, Lesser Goldfinches, House Sparrows and a bunch of others descend on the offering. From the bird-eating hawk’s perspective, we have laid out for them a smorgasbord. Hunting around domestic bird feeders is well-documented in the literature. Kind of ironic, isn’t it, that the food we set out for the birds ends up setting up birds as food.
One of the most fascinating things for me about birds of prey, besides their regal bearing and no-nonsense approach to life, is that they live on the opposite side of the life cycle than we normally think about. They live by death. We in the Church talk a lot about things that are life-giving, many of us are pacifists, and our church participated in the rally against gun violence on March 24th. We see violence tearing our society apart and it rightly appalls us. Birds of prey remind us that violence in and of itself is not the enemy. Self-control does violence to the unruly impulses of our egos. Standing up for truth and justice does violence to those who would use falsehood and injustice for personal gain at the expense of the whole. Ultimately, death is violence to each life it claims. For me, the question is, “To what is violence surrendered?”
In the case of our feathered friends, violence is surrendered to the greater good of the environment, for without their violence the health of the community of the animals they eat would collapse. They remind us that each individual being, precious and holy as it is, only has meaning in terms of the community, and each community, unique and wonderful as it is, only has meaning in terms of the species, and each species, the miracle that it is, only has meaning in the context of creation, and creation, the manifest presence of the divine, only has meaning in the mind of God. That which forgets this truth does violence to life.