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  • Erica Rosi Tham

Bird Room Meditations 2: Perception

Updated: Jan 30

We're still getting info on the twin girls that we're interested in adopting. More on that soon--this coming week! Here's my next bird room essay on Christianity. My sister, Judy Wiles, is writing with me. I wrote the bird room part, and she has written a comment below it. She is more learned than I am biblically, and she clarifies some ideas with her beautifully honest voice. We hope this series will help people find or return to the faith.


Perception and Our Choice to be with God


To truly understand perception, we need to look beyond what we see, hear, feel and touch. In fact, we need to ask ourselves what we do not see, hear, feel and touch. In order to do that, we need a little help, in this case from a bird room.

I love to write and sit with the birds in the morning. Today is a mid-winter day, cloudy with misty rain beyond the window. I have two floor lamps with multiple bulbs which brighten the room all day during Seattle’s dreary months. It is almost 10am now, and the birds have already passed through their early morning period of high activity when they trumpet the new day, engage in some flying maneuvers, and eat their first meal. At this time, most are relaxing and preening themselves while my oldest canary sings beautifully with the leisurely attitude of a lifelong disciplined artist.

While none of us can easily understand what we do not perceive, all of us can imagine what my birds cannot perceive.

Clearly, they have no understanding of most types of weather: rain, wind, snow or significant changes in temperature. They do not know how to find food in nature. They have some instinctual understanding that large birds can be predators, but little knowledge of how they would fit into the overall bird hierarchy beyond the window. Additionally, they are unaware of how all the other animals, cats, dogs, raccoons, people (besides me) or squirrels might be dangerous as well as helpful; some are predators while others might anticipate weather changes or dig into the soil and unearth a worm or some bugs. All of these aspects of life beyond the window are outside of the birds’ perception. And if, like me, you were fascinated by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, you might want to revisit it and compare.

Why is this important to an understanding of Christianity?

For me, there are two key reasons: 1. Understanding our limitations in perception can open us up to the possibilities of God. 2. Understanding our fellow humans’ limitations in perception is critical to remaining on track in our journey with God.



Our Limitations in Perception


A comparison between a domestic zebra finch and a human being is not only amusing; it has some intriguing correlations. I am choosing just one species from my room to keep it simple. Zebra finches live in close communities, and their daily lives are busy. They love a nice home and spend considerable time upgrading with any available materials; they bath frequently and have high standards for their feathers. When enthusiastic about good food or a great piece of twine, they become territorial and drive others away—usually those who are smaller than they are, of course. These moments are rare because they live, by nature, very community-based lives. Bathing and dining are always done in groups with easy sharing among them and a lot of amiable chatter. Zebra finches are plucky; if they feel sick, they try to hide it, and if they become very ill, they persevere as long as they can expecting no favors, though old friends usually hang out with those who are sick. When they have babies, life flies by in a whirl of endless feeding and attempts to convince the baby birds to perch in safe places and to learn through example.

It does sound familiar, doesn’t it? If bathhouses were popular in modern America, the analogy would be striking.

The world beyond the window is fairly quiet. They hear windchimes from a source they do not know, see juncos, robins, blue jays, and hummingbirds, not to mention our resident squirrels, and they see differences in the sky and land, the presence or absence of clouds, the arrival of flowers, and the autumn leaves. Yet they do not associate moving clouds with wind or a change in season. The greatest benefit of the world beyond the room is the warm sunshine in which they bask, especially when elderly or sick.

We live our day to day lives utterly preoccupied with our homes, our immediate survival needs and the people within our families and communities. The spiritual world, the world of God, seems like a quiet place beyond the window of our lives. The simple truth that animals teach us is this: we are all, humans and animals, subject to the confines of the bodies and minds with which we view the world. As my zebra finch does not have a true concept or experience with a tree or with snow, there is a higher reality beyond our world which we can glimpse only in prayer, meditation and especially in miracles.

What does this mean for us? Are we stuck here with our perception as it is—are we doomed to never perceive what a human being is unable to understand?

Not at all. Rather, getting clear about perception is a starting point. When we choose to admit what we do not have and what we cannot do for ourselves, we open the door to God. As Christians, we believe that God is our Father who wants us to return to Him and who helps us along the way. We live in this room of human perception, actually in His care, though we often do not know it, and we need His help to begin to see that amazing, complex, now strangely quiet and distant world beyond the window.



The Limitations of the People We Know


There is a very fine balance between seeking and providing support in others and remaining independent enough to think for ourselves and to have our own personal relationship with God.

As do the birds within the bird room, we strongly need our family and community members. It’s healthy for us to chat and sing together, to eat together, to “nest” together and to have kids together. It is also healthy for us spiritually to gather and to pray together. However, we do make a mistake when we forget that those around us share our limitations in perception. Some are wiser than us, some less wise, but we are all, essentially, in the limited rooms of our lives.

I provide English language training, and my teaching is secular in nature, though I have had a few students who were outspoken Christians. One of these, a doctor from China, stunned me one day during conversation practice. She had been discussing the benefits of Christianity, and I asked her this question which had been on my mind: when people leave Christianity, what do you think causes this? She answered: the hypocrisy of Christians.

I felt sure that she was absolutely right.

You may ask, how can people like my student and I continue to believe in Christianity when Christians are hypocritical?

Well, isn’t it true that everyone is a hypocrite on one day or another? Have you never given advice while your conscience said no, you would not actually do what you advised? It is infinitely easier to sound like a sage than to live like one.

And there are many causes of hypocrisy, not all bad. Sometimes, it is the result of being too idealistic and advising others to live better lives than we can live by example. Sometimes it is the result of a midlife crisis; people get a sudden craving for change and upset others while passing through an awkward phase. Sometimes, people just pretend to be Christians because they want to join a group or gain attention or because they are in a very early phase of their faith making many mistakes as they learn.

And yet, though I believe she was right that the hypocrisy of Christians is a leading cause of people leaving the faith, there is another enabling factor: the tendency we all share to blame another person when we feel lost and confused. It is part of our journey to meet with the big questions. Why do people suffer? Why does one person get rich while another gets diagnosed with a serious disease?

Reconciliation with such questions can take years of reflection and prayer, and meanwhile, many of us take the easy way out. We ask our parents or our ministers for the answers, and when we do not like their answers, doubt toward Christianity takes root in our minds.

But let’s return to the bird room because we have to ask ourselves why other people can be to blame for our choice to reject or abandon a religion which promises us the love of God and eternal life. Let’s examine a realistic avian scenario. Some birds are thieves; thievery certainly exists because the victims of thieves demonstrate territoriality and resentfulness. Let’s say one zebra finch steals a piece of twine from another. Now, because of that theft, the victim decides that I, the bird room keeper and daily producer of twine, cannot possibly exist because the thief believes that I do exist and yet chooses to steal. Hmmm. What did I do, exactly, to deserve a fate of nonexistence?

Now let’s take it one step further and personify these finches, just for fun. One Christian finch asks the other: Why is life unfair? Why do some birds live to be six and others die young? The other finch answers: Because God has a different plan for each of us. The first finch does not like the second finch’s answer very much—is this a good reason to leave the faith?

What if the second finch answered: because God tests some finches more than others. Is that a good reason?

How about: because God is a jealous God and we should fear Him.

Remember: all three answers came from a zebra finch in our analogy. Is it wise for one zebra finch to reject God because of something another zebra finch says or does?

We are all in the room.

This is highly fundamental in learning to steer one’s own course which includes developing one’s own personal relationship with God. The others in the room are there to inspire us, challenge us, help us survive, bring us joy, and to give us the safety of family and community. When we blame others for our disillusionment, is there not usually a cause within ourselves, a fear, failing or disappointment, that we are trying not to face? The reality of life’s unfairness, for instance, creates fear in most people at one time or another; we have no guarantees that we will not get into an accident or get struck by a disease. Life is, by nature, scary.

Please, the next time a Christian, or a friend—or anyone—disappoints you or teaches you a Christian concept which seems wrong or which you do not like, remember that we are all in the room together, all running around (or hopping or flying), needing each other and yet needing also to be strong in ourselves. At times our friends or counselors will have opinions that help us, and at other times, we will need to reject their opinions. God requires us to return to Him, not to other people. Our communities assist us and we need their support, but they can never replace God.

Be still and listen. The world beyond the window awaits.




New Perception


At this time, the world beyond the window may seem not to exist, to be remote or to be beautiful and yet somewhat useless in everyday life. Will that world actually help you to get a job or become a better parent or reduce your anxiety? Will that world help you to find your spouse, avoid a divorce, buy a house or start a business?

Do the squirrels matter to my birds? Do the clouds or the rain matter?

God does help with our daily lives, though it takes time to realize this. First, we have to decide we need God. When we choose God, we are deciding that our souls are more important than the details of our lives, that we can, perhaps, be profoundly content in any situation if our soul is at peace. This is not to say we will be free of moodiness, especially since moods can be caused by physical ill health; however, there can be a part of us that feels, in any situation, that we will be all right.

I call it “the bright seed.” Even during my most troubling times, I feel the part of myself that stirs with life and love, and I think, that’s the bright seed.

We are all in the process of becoming in this life. The world beyond the window is the Kingdom of God and it does lie within us. As the birds feel it when perching on the windowsill, their natural instinct and destiny, we can feel the seed planted within us. We ask God to teach us, slowly, what rain really is, what snow really is, what wind really is, what sunlight really is. We look to our friends and our teachers for help, but we never forget that they too are in the room with us, capable of making the same mistakes that we too could make. There is only one Father.

The exciting part is that though our spouses, our jobs, our communities and our children are wonderfully important, there is a whole other world just waiting for us. We do not need Elon Musk’s space program to reach it. We only need to realize the limitations of where we are right now and how much we do not presently see. As we realize that, as we develop fuller comprehensions of that truth, we move intuitively toward our destiny with God.

There is a world beyond the small rooms of our lives.

Instinctively, we know it is there.

Day by day, we see it and sense it as if it were simply a background, and yet we feel it with our souls as the bright seed deep within each of us stirs.


Erica Rosi Tham


Commentary


Some years ago, I read a book by Dallas Willard entitled The Divine Conspiracy. In it, Dallas wrote of Jesus saying, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He explained that the word repent simply means to turn around, and then he goes on to explain the rest of the verse. He expressed that Jesus stating that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, would be like Jesus walking down the street with us and showing us what is right here. He might say, “Look, there’s the park.” Or “Listen, do you hear the woodpecker? Oh look, there he is!” And right alongside, He might say, as he spreads his arms wide, smiles, and then pats his chest, “And here it is, the Kingdom of heaven, heaven’s realm, it’s here now.” In this, Jesus is saying that there is more going on here than meets the eye, and we can learn to perceive….emphasis on the word learn! Which is why Erica writes that we need to remember that we’re all in the same room and give each other grace as we learn together.

The other day, I went to Wegmans. It was very crowded, and of course, we are all wearing our masks and trying to keep to our space because of this covid cautious season. Normally, I do just fine in crowds, but on this day, I found myself getting anxious, and then simply so thankful to get my shopping done so that I could get out of the store and back into the fresh air. Anxiety has been a challenge for me this year, and I was frustrated to find that even this task brought it on, frustrated to the point of wondering if I might need to get some medicinal help. A few days later, I shared a bit of the year’s anxiety struggle with my little sister, leaving out the grocery store scene. She immediately upheld the honesty of the struggle and shared from her experiences, and then she said this, “I even found myself getting a little anxious at the grocery store the other day. It’s like I can just feel everyone’s fear.” Immediately, I knew I was seen and heard and loved, and I was being provided for. What was that about the bright seed inside? You see, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand, and we have a good, good Father who sees us and knows what we need. He provides his daily seed to help us when our limited perceptions are stifled or choked. There’s another scripture that tells us about a thief who comes to kill, steal, and destroy. What does this thief want to destroy? Very simply, our trust in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who is our hope, our joy, our love, our life, and our daily provider. But even when the victim of the thieving bird loses sight of their loving provider for a bit, this does not mean the loving provider is not there. What a beautiful thing to have Kingdom realm perspective and life, and to be reminded and reassured, and to simply rest in our provider’s care, and what a beautiful thing to be in the room with all the other birds, doing life together while our provider watches over us, smiles and throws us a bit of twine.


Judy Wiles




Thanks for reading! I want to give you a song I love. It's in the Khasi language--my husband is Khasi. The Khasis are a tribal people of Northeast India who accepted Christianity when Welsh missionaries brought the religion about two hundred years ago. These days, they are strong Christians, and as a people, they are great musicians. I'll be providing translations of other songs in upcoming posts.



You will see the Khasi words. Here is the translation.


Heal Me


Thou are the healer

Pains of many kinds

In the midst of lost chances, they are no more

Thou are the deliverer

In the midst of worries, the anxious soul

I return them to thee

Heal me

Thou are the healer

Pains of many kinds

In the midst of lost chances, they are no more

Thou are the deliverer

In the midst of worries, the anxious soul

I return them to thee, Jesus,

Heal me

Heal me

Heal me

Heal me

Here I am alone

Lord, I am empty

In the midst of worries, the anxious soul

I return them to thee, Jesus

Heal me

Rain healing onto me

Rain healing onto me

Rain healing onto me

I will not fear

I will not fear

Rain healing onto me

Rain healing onto me ...



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