The Bluebird of Happiness
Apr 10, 2017
“Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? … Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.” - Mt. 6
Happy Easter. The flowers are up around us everywhere and the birds are singing. It is indubitably spring. That is the real meaning of the word Lent. The biggest sign that tells me it’s spring again is the bluebird that is trying to break into the monastery. It has happened before; in the spring the bluebird appears in the back of the monastery and pretty constantly flies back and forth between the trees and two different windows, staring inside, flickering against the glass trying to enter. It doesn’t matter why, but the bluebird is either trying to defend its territory against its own unrecognized reflection, or it is simply curious... either wondering who that reflected bird is or just wondering what is on the other side of that transparent glass barrier.
I like to think that this is the bluebird of happiness, looking to join us. There is something extremely appealing about a bluebird. In the folklore of the Native Americans of New Mexico, the child of the sun is named Bluebird. They are indeed happy birds with a pleasant song. They seem to like to be around people. There are two important states that have the bluebird as their state bird. These happen to be my home state of New York and my adopted state of Missouri. Out west, there are two states that have the mountain bluebird as the state bird; Idaho and Nevada. So as a symbol for the joy of Easter in the springtime the bluebird seems to me a better symbol than rabbits or lambs or chicks.
Most bluebirds in northern climates migrate during the winter, but not all. They seem something like people in that behavior. Some people are on the move, to avoid unpleasant weather or situations, or to gain some advantage in a new place with a new start. But there is a natural advantage in staying put, and definitely a spiritual advantage (as reflected in St. Benedict’s rule with the vow of stability).
The return of bluebirds in spring is something like the return of swallows to Capistrano, a powerful symbol of life renewed. Life renewed and life everlasting is what we celebrate at Easter, our own resurrection anticipated in Christ.
I can imagine that bluebird being even more like us humans, either defending our territorial self and trying drive off our better-self reflected in the selfless beatitudes of Jesus’ Gospel, or like us trying on our own to break into heaven. A bluebird can exhaust or even kill itself by defensively banging into the window trying to drive off its reflection. The same can happen if it keeps trying to break in. And the same thing can happen to us if we continually resist Jesus’ call to follow him, or if we think we can do it alone. We cannot break into the eternal bliss of heaven like a skillful burglar. Having no wings of our own, we must lift each other up to the window sill of paradise, where it is Jesus who opens the window for us like I am so tempted to open the window for that bluebird.
Perhaps there is another way the bluebird is like us. Those of you around my age will remember the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” The villains, representing all that is bad in humanity, were the Blue Meanies. The Chief Blue Meanie, His Blue-ness if you will, admits at the end of the movie that his cousin is, in fact, the Bluebird of Happiness.
We have a shadow side, a negative reflection of us that still is affected by original sin and brokenness. At times, we are attracted to that side, are captivated by it and give in to it.
The ultimate expression of this shadow is death. But we have been freed from this shadow by Jesus Christ and his Resurrection. Jesus shows how to live in the Light of the World. The iconic representation of this very real liberation is the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. (It was music that defeated the Blue Meanies, you may remember). Just a few weeks ago we had a funeral. The music chosen by the family, which reflected the wishes of the deceased, for the recessional, the procession of the deceased and his family out of the Church to the grave, was the Hallelujah Chorus. This left no doubt that death was defeated in the end.
So again at Easter, the human bluebird song we sing is “Alleluia.” Happy Easter, and congratulations for your own sharing in the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ.