Just Look

Praise God, sun and moon;
praise God, all you shining stars!
Praise God, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!

Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!

—Psalm 148


A few weeks ago, in the throes of pandemic weariness, and desperately longing for spring, a mysterious switch was flicked in my brain. I began noticing birds.

I’ve always loved nature, of course. I mean, who doesn’t? Just look at it.

And I knew the names of most of the common birds in my neighborhood. Robin, House Sparrow, Mourning Dove, Cardinal, Crow.

But mostly I just hadn’t paid all that much attention to the bird world. They had their lives, I had mine. So why, then, was I suddenly ordering a pair of second-hand birding binoculars on eBay?

The binoculars arrived, and I began looking at the world through them. It was tricky at first. I had to learn how to hold them, how to focus, how to stand still and pay attention.

But as I did, very soon something wonderful began happening. My pandemic-weary heart eased, and joy and peace stole over me.

Now, early morning, late afternoon, whenever I have some spare time, I’m over standing next to a clump of brambles listening for White-throated sparrows. I’m staring up into the branches of trees, trying to decide if that’s a Downy or a Hairy Woodpecker. Seeing a species for the first time gives me a rush of happiness that lingers for hours. This morning it was a Palm Warbler, a tiny, bright-yellow miracle of nature. Birds, where have you been all my life?

The answer is: all around me, all the time. And there’s something so profound about that simple fact. The sources of new life, new joy are usually not very far away. They await only an awakening nudge.

Birding has gotten me out of my head and into the world around me. It invites me to become quiet and let myself be absorbed in the flow of the living Creation, to feel myself as part of the whole. I surrender any idea of influence or control, and simply accept the natural world as it is, my hands empty, except for the binoculars—a new lens, a new way of seeing things. Even if I’m not always consciously praying, even if I’m simply looking, not “thinking about God” at all, the response of joy and peace in my spirit is a sure sign of God at work, bringing me to life, even as the spring buds open and the migrating warblers begin to appear.

I hope you’ll take a half-hour outside sometime soon and sit quietly and just look. And may your heart join Creation’s song of endless praise!

Kate Layzer