With special thanks to
But ask now the animals, and they will teach you;
Or the birds of the air, and they will tell you.
Speak to the earth, and it will inform you;
Or let the fish of the sea explain to you.
Every one of these knows
That the hand of Jehovah has done this.
In his hand is the soul of every creature,
And the breath of all humankind.
Everyone knows the bird.
The one deep down inside.
The one no one has seen.
My little daughter loved the story of The Soul Bird.
But she puzzled, “Daddy, ... is there really a bird inside?”
At the time, I did not know how to answer.
But now I can say, “Yes, Maira, the little bird inside is you.”
No one has ever seen the soul.
But there is a bird inside.
I know, I saw one once.
A little soul bird must have escaped.
I don’t know how it was possible.
I imagine it was unusual.
And I don’t know who the soul bird was.
It must have been someone very special.
Perhaps it was you.
Maybe I dreamed the whole thing.
If so, it was more real than the words on this page.
Some things we dream are more substantial
than what we see and touch every day.
So here I relate: The Flight of the Soul Bird.
It all began when I heard the words.
That’s how I recognized that the tiny fluff ball was not just an ordinary bird.
I was in the forest one fresh morning,
enjoying the purity of nature.
Dancing among the branches of a tall oak,
a little bird zoomed up and down,
back and forth,
drinking in all sights
with an abandon I’ve never seen before,
absolutely intoxicated with life!
The bird did not look like the drawings in the story book.
No doubt, each soul bird is different.
This one appeared like an ordinary brown sparrow.
It was the bird’s song that moved me.
Chirps, whistles, even the melody itself became words to my ears:
so firm in the earth,
trembling in the wind,
thank you for allowing me
to alight in your branches.”
“Not at all,”
replied the oak.
“Thank you for dancing
and sharing such joy!”
By now I knew that this must be a soul bird!
Looking carefully, I observed that this one had drawers.
But I did not see any keys.
The drawers appeared like doors to me.
When the bird opened them,
it was not to let feelings out,
it was to allow feelings inside.
Maybe that is what a soul bird does when it escapes.
“To what do we owe
the beauty of your leaves
and the strength of your branches?”
sang the tiny bird.
“Why, it is the light of the sun
that makes my leaves green,
and the soil of the earth
that grants my trunk and branches
their sturdy brown-ness.
“I root firmly in the earth.
The earth and I are one.
My branches and leaves reach toward heaven,
soaking up energy from the sun.
Ever seeking that which is higher,
I connect heaven and earth.”
“I, too, seek what is higher,”
chirped the bird,
“But I am not tied to the earth.”
“Then fly to the sun!
Search through the sky!
Perhaps you can find
higher better than I,”
sang the oak.
Up into the heavens
soared the tiny frame,
as far as it could go.
“How high is the sun?”
sang the bird to the sky.
“He’s higher, still higher,
Much higher than I.”
“I will sing to the sun.
I will search through the sky
to find what is higher,
much higher than I.”
Enchanted by this lively bundle of feathers,
the sun and the sky responded in unison:
“Little bird, tiny bird,
what hides inside,
can teach us much,
like a starry ride!
“Wait until evening,
then you shall see,
some things are higher,
much higher than we.
“The small ones are big.
The big one is far,
but not as high
as the smallest of all.”
I would have imagined to see the bird dejected or disappointed with having to wait.
Yet the soul bird continued in joyful expectancy.
Descending to the shade of the oak, the bird danced some more.
Attracted by its perseverance, the soul bird alighted near a minuscule ant on the ground.
The tiny insect was dragging a huge piece of something many times its own weight.
The soul bird observed this monumental struggle for a while, then chirped:
“Little ant, little ant,
So small, yet so strong.
Why do you work
so hard and so long?
“How can I help you?
What can I do?
To make your life
Easy for you.”
“I must carry this burden home!” exclaimed the ant.
The bird dipped its head,
lifted the burden from the ant’s shoulders,
hopped over a few steps, and
deposited the load on the ant’s doorstep.
The ant declared,
“No one before has ever offered to do my work for me!
You must be a saint!”
Overwhelmed with emotion,
the ant could not speak for a while.
Finally, she continued,
“Is there anything I can do for you in return?”
“Perhaps,” replied the bird thoughtfully.
“The sun and the sky were telling me that small ones are big,
and that the smallest one is very high.
You are among the smallest on earth.
Tell me, how can such things be so?”
“I may be small, but my work is very important.”
“How important? Why important?”
“I know not the how nor the why,” said the ant.
“But this I can feel: Without me, the earth would not be!”
The bird pondered this while one of its drawers remained open extra long.
“Could you do one more favor?” requested the ant.
“Please return my burden so I can carry it home.
Without something to do, I feel worthless.
And the other ants would wonder why I am so lazy.”
Respectfully, the bird returned the ant’s valuable cargo.
“Thank you,” said the ant.
“Now I feel better.
God bless you!”
“God bless you, too, and your work!”
replied the soul bird as it floated up on a gentle breeze.
The soul bird perched on a high branch,
observing a squirrel’s playful activity:
Down to the ground
the squirrel would run.
Dig in the earth.
Jump up the tree.
Hide in his nest.
Then descend so fast you would think he was falling.
Chase a butterfly.
Smell a rose.
Chatter to the groundhog.
Leap from branch to branch.
Play tag with his friend.
Presently, the squirrel approached the little spectator, proclaiming,
“Dear bird, I must speak with you!”
“Yes?” replied the bird.
“You are the most curious bird I have ever seen!”
“Is that so?”
“Not in appearance, but how you act,” explained the squirrel.
“From where do you come?”
“It is hard to describe,” said the bird.
“This morning I was restless, feeling all cooped up.
Suddenly I heard music, indescribably beautiful music!
A voice sang:
“Little bird, little bird,
Angels are beckoning,
Come! Take a ride!”
“The next thing I knew, I was here.”
“Well,” exclaimed the squirrel, “How did you choose to come to this oak?”
“I did not choose. I was sent.”
“I don’t know. How is it that you come to this oak, dear squirrel?”
“Oh! I am an expert on trees. I know them inside out, up and down. Some are hardwood, some soft. Some are tall, some broad. Each type of tree has its own type of leaf. Some like sandy soil, others prefer rocky. Some need much water, others can survive drought. There are mountain trees, northern trees, southern trees, evergreens and deciduous. The best and most important are the nut trees. That is why I like this tall oak. He produces many lovely acorns!”
“The ant works hard. She is successful and important,” said the bird.
“I observe that you know how to play as well as how to work.”
“It’s true,” replied the squirrel.
“I love to play, just for fun,
and to talk to the birds.
I always learn something from them.
Work? I guess you could call it work.
I build my nest, gather nuts, and plant them,
but all of that is fun.
I don’t think of it as work.”
“The oak tree loves to see you playing,” said the bird.
“Oh, did he say so?” asked the squirrel.
“No, but I could see it in his face.”
“What?” exclaimed the squirrel,
“Do trees have faces?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, where is his face?
I don’t see it on his trunk,
Or in his branches and leaves,” said the squirrel.
You’ve spoken with the oak before, haven’t you?”
“And hasn’t he spoken back?”
“How could he talk without a mouth, and a face to hold it?” asked the bird.
“Perhaps you’re right. I never thought of it that way, ” mused the squirrel.
“A person’s face reveals his heart.
And his heart reveals his face.
Look closely, carefully,
and look with your heart,”
said the bird.
“Then you will find his face.
The tree connects heaven and earth,
so his heart is very special.”
“Wow!” said the squirrel, “I never knew he was so important.”
“Like the oak, I search for what is most high.
The oak told me to consult the sun and the sky.
The sun and the sky said to wait until evening,
then I would learn about what is most high.”
“Well,” said the squirrel, “You might enjoy talking to Mrs. Owl.
She knows many things about the evening.
She is very wise.”
As the soul bird set off to look for Mrs. Owl,
the squirrel leaped around chattering excitedly:
“Hey! Mr. Oak!
Guess what I learned from a little bird today!”
The soul bird found friend owl slumbering in her nest.
Ever alert, the sleepy owl turned her head.
Big eyes blinked open a tiny slit.
“Hello, dear owl, friend squirrel sent me to see you.”
“Always nice to make a new friend,” said the owl, stifling a yawn and stretching her wings.
“I hear you are an expert on the night.”
“Yes, you could say that.”
“In the night,
What is smallest of all?
And what is most high?
And how are they related?”
questioned the soul bird.
“Some imagine that I am wise because I know the mysteries of the night.
These same ones think that the bat is evil because he is only of darkness.
But that is not so. You cannot measure evil in such a way.
The light of day and the light of night each carry their different feelings.
For those who cannot see, the night holds hidden dangers.
For those who have eyes to see, and ears to hear,
the night reveals her wonders.”
“The lights in the sky, day or night,
are ever the same, ever changing.
What appears small, may be big.
What appears high, may be near,”
explained the owl.
“Only One never changes:
That Which Is.”
“What is That Which Is?,”
asked the soul bird.
“All must yield to the whims of heaven.
When the storm breaks,
or the tempest brews,
by day or by night,
all creatures seek shelter until it passes.
For the heavens rule the earth,
and that is as it should be.
The will of heaven is
That Which Is”
“Are not the gods in the heavens?” wondered the bird.
“You ask things too wondrous for me.
Speak to the tiger, if you dare.
He rules the forest.
Like me, he knows the night as well as the day.
It is he whom I have heard mutter of gods.“
“Did not the little ant speak of God?” questioned the bird.
“Ants are simple creatures.
They speak what they feel.
And they copy phrases from others.
But they can’t explain a thing.”
“Thank you, dear owl.
“Tell me, how did you befriend the tiger?”
“We encounter each other occasionally in our night hunting,” explained the owl.
“The tiger does not eat many birds.
He prefers deer and other large prey.
And I make it a point to keep my distance.
I consider the tiger a potentially dangerous friend.”
“Where can I find the tiger?”
“Beware! The tiger will eat you if he catches you.”
“I will be careful.”
“The sun is high, the day is hot.
Like me, the tiger prefers the night.
If you seek him now, you will find him in his lair, in his cave.
There are no trees there.
No protection for a little bird.”
“Still, I feel I must go.”
“Are you not afraid?”
“Yes, I am afraid. But I must go.”
“Good luck!” bid the owl.
At the mouth of the cave,
the soul bird hesitated,
hopped in a few feet,
skittered out again,
then flew to a nearby branch.
The bird scrutinized the mouth of the cave for a while,
then took a deep breath and proceeded again.
Entering the cave cautiously,
a few hops at a time,
the bird sang:
A little bird humbly,
begs an audience with
Your Esteemed Majesty.”
Deeper and deeper into the cave advanced the bird, repeating its respectful song.
The passage way widened.
Glancing behind, the bird could no longer see the mouth of the cave.
In front, total darkness peered ominously.
The bird realized there was no coming out alive without the king’s favor.
A little bird ..., “
A tremendous roar interrupted the song,
knocking the little bird backward off its feet.
The walls shook, the floor shook, the ceiling shook.
The echoing roar would not stop.
Inches from the bird’s face
appeared a giant pair of glowing green diamonds.
Below them were glistening fangs,
a bright red tongue
and striped jaws.
The soul bird promptly fainted.
A hot, moist breeze slowly stimulated consciousness.
The rhythmic breeze contrasted sharply with the cold cave floor under the bird’s back.
Opening one eye, the soul bird outlined a gigantic paw connected to a long, powerful leg.
The thickness of the leg created a hill towering above the bird’s lowly altitude.
Opening its other eye, a similar panorama came to view.
Focusing upward, the bird realized that the warm breeze was actually the tiger’s breathing.
The soul bird closed its eyes tightly and thought furiously about what to do.
A deep, penetrating voice broke the silence,
“Are you wondering whether it’s safe to stop playing dead?”
The soul bird clambered to its feet and performed a trembling sort of little bow.
“With all due respect,
I was wondering why you hadn’t eaten me,
and what I should do to insure
that you would not want to eat me.”
“Oh! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
The tiger’s bellowing laugh toppled the bird over again, resounding off the walls so long and forcefully that one imagined the cave was full of tickled tigers.
The soul bird stood up, but another round of uncontrollable laughter put him on his back once more.
“Oh! Ho! Ho! Ho!
Well! Well! Well!
Ho! Ho! Ha!
“A little bird enters my lair,
disturbs my afternoon nap,
and seeks an audience
to ask why I haven’t yet eaten him!
Oh! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
The tiger rolled over, holding his sides in pain.
A shrill, high-pitched laughter joined the reverberating bass of the tiger.
The bird suspected that they were not alone.
Eyes having grown accustomed to the dark,
the little bird glanced about,
noticed that the ceiling was moving,
then realized that it was not the ceiling itself,
but a great quantity of bats!
The tiger collected himself,
“Tell me, brave little fool,
what strange spirit bewitched you
to come asking nonsense of tigers?”
“Your Highness, Sir... Your Majesty, Mrs. Owl told me that you speak of the gods.”
“Ah! So, it took the wisdom of the owl to make a fool come here!”
“Actually, Your Lordship, Sir, She recommended that I not come.”
“So my confidence in Mrs. Owl’s wisdom can remain unshaken?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.”
“I am not likely to ever want to eat a scrawny little feather ball like yourself.
But tell me, from whence comes your courage?”
“Yes, your courage.”
“But, I am terribly frightened!”
“Then how could you come here?”
“I felt I had to.”
“In spite of your fear?”
“That is courage!
Do not confuse bravery with never being afraid.
Bravery means to overcome fear.
The stronger the fear, the greater the courage needed to go beyond that fear.”
“You are a very brave little bird!”
“So, why did you feel you had to enter the tiger’s den?”
“I felt that there was something important I needed to learn from you, Your Majesty.”
“Something more important than life?”
“I don’t know.”
“But you risked your life to come here.”
“Perhaps it is more important than life.
I search for that which is higher.”
“Higher than what?”
“Higher than myself.
I seek for that which is highest of all.”
“Aha! And how could I teach you about that which is higher?”
“Well, Your Majesty is already teaching me about courage.”
“A courage that goes beyond fear of death, yes.
But it is you who is teaching me!” exclaimed the tiger.
“How could I teach Your Majesty anything about courage?
You are the bravest creature on earth!”
“What makes you say that?” countered the tiger.
“Like so many others, you confuse power and authority with courage.
“I am powerful.
I rule in the forest because others fear my strength.
That is as it should be.
I rule responsibly.
I never kill unjustly.
So the lesser creatures respect me as well as fear me.
But that does not make me courageous.
If I have nothing to fear, there is no reason to be brave.”
“Then who is really brave?” wondered the bird.
“A mother defending her young at the risk of her life is truly brave,” explained the tiger.
“The most gentle female becomes a vicious opponent when she steps beyond her fear.
Likewise, a little bird advancing into darkness and untold danger is really brave.”
“Is there nothing that Your Majesty fears?” wondered the bird.
“I fear that which I cannot see nor understand,” said the tiger.
“If it please Your Majesty, could you explain about the gods?”
“The gods are mysterious,
born of heaven,
but not seen with the eyes.
“If you are quiet in the morning calm,
you can smell the presence of their footsteps
in the morning dew.
“On a clear night,
you can hear their faint whisperings
in the stardust that falls from heaven.
“In the lightning and thunder of the storm,
You can feel their fury and great power.
“In the softness of the rose petal,
you can sense their tenderness
“The harmony and unity of all things
are administered by the host of heaven.
“And the pangs of unrighteousness
stem from their failures.
“The gods embody all that I can neither understand nor explain.”
“Then you fear the gods?” asked the bird.
“Yes, it is natural that I should fear and respect the gods,” answered the tiger.
“Who are the ‘host of heaven’?” wondered the bird.
“Angels, spirits, ghosts, demons –
it matters not what you call them,
all of them are gods,
and they are many.”
“The ant speaks of ‘God’, as though there were only one,” commented the bird.
“It may be that there is One Great Spirit, in authority over all the gods.
But that is beyond my ken,” declared the tiger.
“Is there no creature upon the Earth that you fear?” questioned the bird.
“I fear the colorful serpent.
Treacherous and deceitful, he speaks with two tongues.
I wonder that he has made an ill-advised pact with the gods.
I also fear man.”
“Why are you afraid of man?”
“It is normal and right that I should fear man.
He walks like a god,
he speaks like a god,
and he works magic like a god.
“Your questions, little bird, are not of this world.
Beginnings and ends,
whys and wherefores,
are beyond our ken.
They belong not to the kingdom of animals.
We simply ARE.
“Even you, little bird,
although I can see you,
are beyond my understanding.
“If you want truth, twisted to unjust ends, talk to the snake.
If you are careful to not be deceived, you may learn something from him.
“Or you can try man.
Man is unreliable, and has brought untold grief to this world.
But he is almost a god.”
“Thank you, Your Majesty.
I prefer to avoid the snake.”
The bird bowed, making a respectful exit.
Outside the mouth of the cave, a slithery form coiled in wait.
When it heard the soul bird approach, it crept forward, blocking the exit.
“So, this is the little bird who bravely hobnobs with kings, and searches for The Way!”
The serpent hissed in his most flattering manner,
“Already your fame has spread to the Most High!”
“Leave your empty flattery for someone else, Mr. Serpent.”
“Ah! But it is true, what I say!” conjured the snake.
“Ever since this morning, when you left your body behind,
heaven and earth have marveled at your activity.
”Yet, time runs short.
If I were you, I would return quickly.
Your body is on the verge of death.
Soon, it will be too late!”
“The body is not the source of life.”
responded the bird.
“I seek first that which is higher,”
“Yes!” cried the snake.
“You are already well above such concerns.
Show us your powers!
Dematerialize from where you are,
And re-materialize outside the cave.
Prove that not even I can block you!”
“Why do you test me?
Such is not the way of goodness!”
countered the bird.
“What have you learned about the way of heaven?
Oh! What I could show you!
I can teach you how to be a god!”
intoned the snake.
“I shall never follow your schemes!
I want only to do the will of heaven,”
invoked the bird.
Anger flared in the serpent’s face.
He reared up, ready to strike!
Behind the soul bird, a terrifying roar emerged from the cave.
The tiger sprang forward, fangs bared.
The snake quickly slithered into the nearby bushes and disappeared.
“Thank you, Your Majesty.”
said the Tiger.
Straight away the bird flew and landed in front of me.
“Hello,” the soul bird chimed cheerfully, “How are you able to hear and understand me?”
Until that moment, I had felt myself invisible and unnoticed.
It took me by surprise.
The bird must have recognized my presence the whole time.
“I do not know,” I replied.
And on the spur of the moment, I asked,
“Why are you free?”
“God gave me wings. I must fly.”
“Why are you so small?”
“I am just the right size.”
“How do you hold so many feelings inside?”
“The more powerful a feeling,
the less room it takes to keep it,
and the easier it is to share it.
Why do you ask such questions?”
“I was just wondering.”
“I like to wonder, too.”
We sat in silence for a while enjoying each other’s company.
“Can you recall the last time you used your wings?” the bird asked.
A hazy image swirled behind my eyelids.
“No, I cannot remember.”
“Come with me,“ said the bird.
Together we flew on a half-forgotten memory:
Late 1950’s. North of the Ohio.
A century after the Underground Railroad.
A family outing on the first sweltering hot day of summer.
A skinny, blond 4 year-old.
His older brother.
Wind in their faces.
Full of excitement as the old Pontiac whizzes toward its destination.
The father steers into a parking area by the lake at the new State Park.
A sandy beach alive with screaming children spreads out before them.
The boys can hardly contain themselves,
“Swimming! Let’s go!”
But the parents don’t move.
“Daddy, Mommy, what’s wrong?”
“There are too many colored people here,” comes the dry response.
The boys look again.
Of the ecstatically splashing crowd, eight out of ten are colored.
“But we want to go swimming!”
Desperation and disappointment show in their faces and sound in their voices.
The father consults his map.
“Let’s try the other side of the lake.”
More riding, hope and expectation.
At a smaller beach, the car rolls to a stop.
The boys jump up and down with excitement.
The ratio of colored to white is the opposite here.
The smaller boy shouts out,
“Daddy, Mommy, we can swim here!
There aren’t too many colored people here!”
“CHUCKY!!!” the parents simultaneously spout their disapproval.
Stunned, the little boy has no clue for this severe reprimand, until he turns to see in the next car, a small boy, about the same age, with close-cropped, curly black hair and dark skin, staring back at him, wide-eyed and mouth open.
Beside the ‘colored’ boy, a young woman, equally shocked, reaches over to embrace and protect her child.
The little blond boy falls to the floor of the car.
Burning inside, he cannot shut out the wrong.
The soul bird sat quietly, feeling what was in my heart:
Together we cried, tears falling freely.
We cried for the little colored boy, who did not know why.
We cried for the mother who could not shield her son from injustice.
We cried for the white father and mother who could not hide their shame.
We cried for the brother, accomplice in sin.
And finally, we cried for the little boy, who had been me.
A gentle rain began to fall.
Clouds of heaven spilled their tears with us,
washing all down the hillside,
into the streams and rivers,
down toward the sea.
A voice, not my own, cried deep within my heart:
We drifted on the ocean.
Ocean, broad ocean,
Deep ocean of tears,
Teardrops of heaven,
Whence come the years?
Hours of sadness,
Moments of joy,
Eons of wistfulness,
Each a grand ploy.
In the midst of the darkness,
Cleansed by the rain,
Embalmed in the sea,
We awaited rebirth.
Angels came on the wind to deliver us.
We could not see them with our eyes,
nor hear them with our ears.
But we understood them with our hearts.
They were many, but their voice was One:
Soul bird, dear soul bird,
Are you in pain?
Listen now carefully,
We know the Name.
The Name of the ONE WHO IS ALL,
The ALL WHO IS ONE
Who made Heaven and Earth
And set stars in the sky.