Friday, October 24, 2008

Starlings Over Africa: Wisdom in Flight


This past week in a sermon I gave Politics, Faith, and Wisdom I spoke of starlings and how they might have things to teach we humans, especially in this time of elections, turmoil, war, economic uncertainty, and the hardship and strife for those caught in the web of life. After the service one man came up to me and said, "one individual starling is just about the most beautiful thing on earth, in a flock though they are pests and of great concern."

I thought how true for our own species as well. In Darfur atrocities continue, a swarm of oppression, anger, hurt, and devastation has descended upon these peoples. African culture and people are immensely wondrous, for they are the holders of our ancient roots. Roots of beauty, and roots that feed upon the suffering of others. People harming people and now the starlings have descended upon them.


         Earth week in late September (( reports:

"Sudan’s troubled Darfur region has received another blow to its stability — this time

from an invasion of starlings, known locally in Arabic as zarzur. The Sudanese daily

Alray Alaa’m

reports that large flocks of the winged pests have descended upon South

Darfur State, destroying crops and threatening to bring even more acute food shortages

and higher prices. A spokesman for the Sudanese Revolutionary Front said government

neglect had allowed the bird invasion, but stated that his forces would not interfere with

any airplanes dispatched to combat the birds with aerial spraying."


The starlings tell us of what we are doing not just to each other, but to our earth. Flocks increase in size, some say due in part to climate change. The starlings used to go further south before Roman winters warmed up. Now they overwhelm parts of our urban and rural landscapes throughout the world, as do the human counterparts. Each of us is so beautiful, but in great numbers, what are we to do with ourselves? Is the final answer that we are to be feared as a dark, voracious multitude with violence or despair as the only answer?


I believe that we can find beauty in the darkest hour, in the most complex unnerving paradox. A swirling flock may wreak havoc upon the land, and can also inspire gratitude for the chaotic interconnection in which we dwell. Starling flocks, "murmurations," whisper to us, coaxing out our wisdom, much as they did in ages past when people studied flocks in an art called augury that sought meaning in the patterns of bird flight.


A flock of European starlings over Africa swirls and moves as one. When a predatory hawk or falcon attacks the group, they scatter only to regroup once again, undulating nearly as one organism so perfect is their flight – no one bird hits another and there is not one bird in control. Instead they each follow simple rules – stay to the center as much as possible, stay 2-3 bird lengths away from the next bird, don’t hit another bird, and get away from the hawk.

Our rules can be simple too. Go into the heart of understanding, to the center of where beauty and joy lay. But don’t stay fixated on that center, there really is no center of truth. It’s constantly moving as more and more different people enter our communities and realm of influence. With every new stranger encountered get as close as possible to the other, but not too close. Don’t hit them and do no harm, but stay engaged with who they are. We do this by listening and paying attention to where the other is. We don’t hole up year round in our homes or our nesting sites, but join another in public. Our greatest hope as humans is to build a public life where we don’t try to get away from uncomfortable conversations that create chaotic energy beyond our control. Instead we stick together, undeniably free and beautiful on our own, and ever more powerful and wise together, and only together. In this way we may avoid the hawk of desire that plagues us, and in turn not ourselves be a plague upon the planet.

May it be so.

Fly free and blessed be.


Picture Credits:

Individual starling:


NY starlings:


African Starlings -

Starling Tree:

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Nature Has Rights: La Naturaleza Tiene Derechos

907846984_ec8b0702ba_5 Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.

- Rumi (Sufi Poet)

Ecuadorsunsetb_3 On Sunday September 28th Ecuador passed a new constitution, becoming the first country in the world to grant rights to nature.

In the First Article of this Constitution: La Naturaleza o Pachamama, donde se reproduce y se realiza la vida, tiene derecho a existir, perdurar, manetener, y regenera sus ciclos vitales, su estructura, funciones y procesesos evolutivos.

Nature has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Earthflag1514web_3 I nearly wept while reading this vision, put forth by a people, proclaiming that they are one community of mixed species, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. How glorious it might be if in this country that pledges allegiance to a flag, instead we raised our hands to the skies, covenanting with all of life as we seek freedom for all beings. When ever I am present and the people among me recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the national anthem, I do look to the skies and to the oceans, over soccer fields, over head in courtrooms, and into the depths of the seas out of which we emerged, swearing before all of life, I belong, you belong, all gods’ critters belong!

I thank the people of Ecuador for their vision, for it seems as if my soul may lie down at last in peace, beyond words, beyond the despair of our species’ fumbling and bumbling, and speak no more, or at least for awhile while I rest in the beauty of wild things.

The Peace of Wild Things

78983755_e1livae0__mg_6216cap1_4 When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
Milky_way_5 of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

— Wendell Berry

Picture Credits: