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Sunday, September 27, 2009

La Violencia

I often regard the "eco-spirituality" people with absolute astonishment. They preach peace and nature and love, wanting to save whatever given species, which of course, in and of itself, is a laudable endeavor.

I have long been a nature-lover. I grew up in a country neighborhood and learned to tell the weather from the mood of the birds and the reflection of the river we could see through our living room window. I love seeing God revealed in His creation, noting the hierarchy of life that surrounds us, no matter where we live. Even here, where I reside in the city, I am not apart from the beauty of the earth; we have an elusive albino squirrel, Moe the Mole (and his relatives all over the park), eagles, ducks, geese...many birds and bunnies.

So you see, I am no enemy to conservation or proper stewardship of the earth.

What amazes me, though, is that those who put that platform above and beyond where it SHOULD be are in complete denial about the true hierarchy of nature and the utter violence of it.

Nature is VIOLENT!

Last summer, while taking my dog for a "walk" in the common yard of my town home community, I noted that there was a small dead bird lying in the tray of my neighbor's feeder. After I brought my dog inside, I donned gloves and returned to the hanging feeder, hoping to rectify the situation.

The bird had obviously not died of gluttony, even though its head was stuck inside the vertical tubular feeder, but from attack. Blood was apparent all over its feathers, and as I carefully wrapped my gloved fingers around the lifeless body, I saw that its neck was broken and jutting outward.

An inquisitive worm poked his head out through the hole the bird's spine had made, investigating my glove, wondering why his meal was moving.

After a few pulls, when the head did not come loose, I realized that the only thing to do was to yank HARD to remove it. I couldn't do it. It didn't matter that the bird wouldn't feel it; I knew that I'd forever remember the sensation of the yank, leaving the head to rot on the rest of the food still in the tube.

I couldn't do it. As I removed my gloves and returned to my house, reflecting on the violent nature of..well..nature, another neighbor came out onto his deck so I explained the problem. The next time I went by the feeder, the bird's body was gone. I suspect the head remained, but decided not to think about it.

Predatory Violence

Today while walking my dog, I saw a bird sweep down towards the street and fly past us, carrying something in its talons. I stopped, trying to observe what it had. A small bird? A mouse? Roadkill?

I couldn't identify the bird immediately.

Amazingly it alighted on the branch of a large tree nearby, perched upon its prey. I carefully waked back towards it, trying to see what it had.

I am not a birdwatcher so can't say for certain what it was, but thought perhaps it was a red-tailed hawk. It had a hooked beak (typical of predatory birds) and a red breast. It turned once, its tail spread outward for balance, and I saw a horizontal striped pattern. Beautiful creature.

Cruel creature, predator that it was. Yet who was I to fault this creature for seeking a meal according to its nature?

I was fascinated.

The prey was still alive and I thought maybe it was a was grey, but seemed...large. Then the hawk (or falcon?) let it go, and it spread out to reveal its identity...a full-grown grey squirrel!

I was amazed! The squirrel was almost as big as the bird, at least in length! And was clearly injured..I don't know that the squirrel will survive. It might have been partially paralyzed, based on how it moved itself towards the safety of the trunk of the tree.

Violent Spiritual Combat

The last time I met with my Spiritual Director, we discussed spiritual combat. I told him, in detail, of my occult/new-age history. It wasn't that he hadn't known before, only that other things were the focus and I felt he needed to know this, of the battles I face, some of which are, at times, physical.

He simply noted that all of us face spiritual battles and for some, it is more intense than for others. He was right.

Ever since our meeting, I have been plunged into a darkness I can't understand...even though I do. I've been faced with my greatest sins, my greatest weaknesses. For the last week every time I have attended Mass I've been holding back tears to the degree that it has distracted me from the prayers of the Mass. I've been discouraged, I've fallen away from God, I've come back through Confession, and I find myself still fleeing shadows, most caused by myself.

This weekend I got together with my little family, whom I haven't seen since early this summer, although we've spoken on the phone. They wanted to "hear" all about my visits of July and August. Yet I couldn't speak. I nearly bit their heads off! I couldn't talk about it. I tried, and my brother immediately revealed that he disagreed even with my initial premise...

He asked me to give my favorite. I explained I didn't have a favorite. He didn't agree. I told him OF COURSE he didn't agree, because it wasn't like anything he'd ever done before! He tried to press the issue, and I said I wasn't going to discuss my discernment. Mom was conciliatory and seemed to understand. Brother didn't.

But it didn't justify me biting his head off.

My nature is violent, too.

I can't remove the body of a dead bird from its head, but I have no problem removing my brother's head from his living body.

He doesn't understand, and neither does Mom. I don't even understand my violent reaction to his sincere query. I don't understand my inability to discuss my discernment, even the simplest things of my own "apostolic visitation" this summer.

All I know is that I can't talk about it. Not with anyone. I have no desire to do so, I have an abhorrence of doing so, such that any inquiry into it seems to cause an immediate reaction designed to shut down any further inquiry.

I feel so bad for my family and anyone who knows me.

I don't know if I'm the Hawk or the injured prey or simply a disgruntled observer.

I don't know who I am..who I have ever been.

I'm Exhausted by the Violence

Yet there has been grace; a direction towards some advice from St. Ignatius of Loyola this week was helpful, and is something I continue to consider.

Today at Mass, in nearly every moment I was in tears, and thankfully, was nearly alone in my pew. I don't know why I was so emotional, or felt so alone. I thought back often to St. Ignatius's advice about discouragement, trying to keep self-pity at bay. I knew that God saw me, God knew every little thing and would respond when and where it was needed...and not in response to my pitiful self-love.

As it was, a guy I knew sat in front of me with his little girl; I don't know where his wife was. At the sign of peace I was in la-la-land for a moment causing him to hold his hand out in limbo for awhile before I returned peace, a little sheepishly. After Mass we spoke for awhile and I have to was God's Providence to connect with him, for I had what he needed in the form of information...and he had what I needed in the form of connection.

I have to admit that as a single woman, so often, especially when I am in such a mood, I really just want someone to NOTICE my existence, because I feel so totally, totally isolated.

So I saw God's intervention, then, that as I approached Father, he, knowing me, seeing the bag in my hands, realized I had something to be blessed. He was ready. It doesn't matter that I haven't asked him personally to bless anything in MONTHS. He saw me, he saw what I had, and by the time I reached him he already had his hand raised in blessing.

It was nice to be known. It was nice to be seen.

I'd rather keep my tears hidden so the happier things can be seen. I'd rather keep the combat quiet, so that the fruit of it can be observed.

But once in awhile, it's nice if someone knows of the violence, recognizes it, and admits they experience it, too.

Especially if the one who sees it is God...and lets me know He is with me, even through small gestures that come through the hands and friendship of others.

Without them...I could never withstand the violence that is life.

I know that I am the wounded squirrel, still escaping the hawk. I live among this violence, hoping that, in the end, I'm not the bird left decomposing with my head stuck in a feeder...containing food I can never ingest.

Nature is violent. Never forget it.


Mandrivnyk said...


Yeah, I have never been able to understand people who have a fluffy sort of view of the natural world (this is, actually, something I have had a draft involving something along these lines, although it likely won't be ready for posting until sometime when the snow flies in the next week or two).

I live in the near North; drive about 15 minutes from my house, and you'll hit the start of the Arctic watershed. This is deep in the Boreal forest, and the things I've experienced both growing up here and working her in fish/wildlife are enough to rid you of that sort of delusion for good. It's not unusual, around here, to have to miss work or class since a big ol' black bear is in your yard, and, doing fisheries work and working bear lines, I have been stalked by bears more than once in my life, along with snapping turtles, and other random critters. One of my coworkers was once charged by a big old moose in defense of her calf.

Although she is certainly sublimely beautiful, nature just isn't pleasant or kind, at least not always. If you forget that, she will gladly eat you alive. For me, of course, the dark and violent edge of it all was part of the appeal, but that's a terribly destructive sort of ideology. I could just as easily say, personally, that I'm the wounded squirrel or the hawk. Just depends on who's playing the predator.

It is in God's intervention, and only there, that we can find an escape to that cycle.


Julia said...

On the topic of people not realizing the violence of the natural world - I was thinking while reading your post that in a way this is a good thing. It means people naturally realize that the violence in nature is not the way things should be. What they need to see next is that we have fallen, that things in this world are broken. They need to understand that we fell back in Eden, and we cannot attain true peace again without God, including His often painful, and even violent, purifications.

ck said...

Your post makes me think how the modern world has made it easy to survive in isolation. The day after a family holiday I feel such a strong sense of well-being that it makes me think that living alone shouldn’t be the norm. If I had been born earlier in the 20th century I would have married or joined a convent by now. I think the modern world allows us to put off decisions that necessity and social convention would have forced in the past.

Speaking of the violence of nature, I found a cat paw in the middle of my garage last week. And lots of large grey and white feathers. Watch the cartoon on my Facebook for the agonizing details.