As we were walking on Friday, we noticed that the lilies are beginning to climb out of the water and the muck and settle on the surface of the ponds. They are getting ready to bloom. They will bloom all summer long.
Whenever I see water lilies I think about the phrase: No Mud, No Lotus (or no mud, no common water lily), reminding me that we grow through the mud and struggles and challenges of life. We go through the mud and yet come through it to bloom without a dusting of dirt on our unfolding petals as we reach for Grace. A reminder to not hide from the messy, dirty, ugly mud, but to embrace it. Or…at least remember that the challenging path is there to help us grow even if we can’t fully and happily embrace it.
Lotus being the more “glamorous” and “beautiful” version of the common water lily.
We always admire the “pretty” things. The prettier lotus. The prettier dove. The white dove. The white adorable bird with an olive branch in its mouth, a symbol of world peace, a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We tend lean towards that which is pretty and easy on the eyes and the ears. And lean away from that which is ugly and discordant.
It sounds like the coming of the Holy Spirit wasn’t an easy, calm like the dove we imagine, pretty thing.
That made me think about pigeons. The common dove.
Pigeons and doves belong to the same family of birds (Columbidae), which consists of more than 300 species. They share similar features like thick and round bodies, short necks and thin peaks, but doves are generally of a smaller stature while pigeons are often larger and stubbier. Less “pretty”.
We tend to be okay with “hating on” the pigeon. They are “dirty, nasty, messy, ugly” creatures. The “rats” of the bird species. They crowd around us with their dirty feet and ugly grey feathers begging for food. We ignore them and shoo them away.
Perhaps, the pigeon is us. The common human. A little hungry, a little crowded, a little dirty, struggling a little , struggling a lot, a little meek, a little thirsty, a little marginalized. Ostracized and hated.
Damaged by struggling to be seen in the crowd. To be noticed over the other prettier or more outgoing ones. Trying to be “seen” over the others for a little bit of food and attention. Often kicked by a passerby busily on their way to something more important. Fed bubble gum and Alka-seltzer to see if they actually do explode. Safe perches blocked with spikes. Not in my backyard.
The every day inadvertent trials of a hard life. Fresh wet tar in the feathers. A rubber band accidentally eaten. Accidentally trapped in a stray plastic bag. Or a soda can bands (that’s not just the turtles).
Have you ever actually sat down and watched a flock of pigeons? They just stumble and hop along, cooing and singing, for the most part quietly (maybe desperately) and gently seeking a bit to eat. They often have toes or whole feet missing. Tragedies of stray strings, rubber bands, and other garbage that gets stuck and wrapped around their toes and cuts off circulation until that part falls off.
Why, do we marginalize the pigeon? Why do we treat them like they aren’t worthy? They’re not pretty? They’re a nuisance? There’s too many of them? So we ignore them or the less thoughtful of us all out harm them intentionally or by neglect of attention.
Why are some doves better than others? Because they are less frequently seen, less annoying, more pretty? Why do we like some birds, but not others?
Why is holy spirit seen only in what’s special and beautiful and not in the ordinary and beautiful? Maybe there is Holy Spirit and holy spirit.
Maybe the pigeons are a test. Because they could remind us of those common human in the Beatitudes. Those who are most deserving of love and attention, but it’s often easier to look away. The hard work. The ground work. The hands on, hands in, dirty work.
It’s easy to ignore the common and what’s on the fringe and what’s “not pretty”. Easy to label and excuse our own behavior that “it doesn’t count because…”. To label as unfixable, or lotted in life as dirty and evil, and then we get to turn our gaze away. We get to not see the small harms we inflict.
It’s very easy to love the perfect, white dove.
It’s not so easy to love the imperfect, slightly messy dove. The one we don’t even grace with the name of dove.
We are asked to love and love deeply. Loving deeply is loving when we’d rather not. Loving when we’d rather look away. We close our eyes to what’s ugly and messy. We draw back our hands from what’s dirty. We wrinkle our noses. We walk away.
The dove is a pretty picture of what’s to come and what to strive for. A pretty picture of purity and peace that we hope for. A pretty picture of the Holy Spirit. But what about the holy spirit. That small spark in each of us that begs to be seen and heard and touched? That coos and calls for attention in the crowd?
We work toward the peaceful pretty dove through the common pigeon, the common water lily, the common human being, our common selves. The Holy Spirit reminds us that we are given the tools to speak and to listen and do good work here. That we are meant to work with those who most need our love. The ugly. The hard. The messy.
It’s through the mud that the lily becomes the Lily.
It is through the streets of mundane life that the common pigeon becomes the beautiful dove.
I wonder if this is why the pigeon so closely resembles the dove. To remind us that our work is here, on the ground. To remind us to lift our eyes, but also to look down at our feet. To be humble and kind.
To be fully present with all of life and one another. To remember that we need to be there for all of those with us on the ground. We need to do the work toward the light by being the voice, the listening silence, the fire, the touch of love and grace in this world, in our neighborhoods and on our streets. For those, all those, around us who need us.
To strive toward the light, but not forget to keep our feet on the ground and to be mindful of what we might be trampling as we look toward only what is pretty and easeful. To remember the Path as we look toward the goal ahead. To seek those glimpses of what is Holy and special and to see right in front of us what is holy and mundane.