In the Manse garden we have a couple of very assertive magpies! I’ve been watching them throughout the Spring and I have to say their behaviour has gone rather downhill! They seem to enjoy bullying the other birds just for the pleasure of it – swooping down to startle them, rushing up to them in the trees and forcing them off the branches or even pecking a somewhat dumb looking pigeon on the neck before pining him down completely!
Now I know the magpie has great points – it is certainly an impressive looking bird and the ornithologists tell us it has the rare quality amongst our feathered friends of being able to recognise itself in the mirror. But I think it’s a bit of a thug really!
The truth is, however many times we sing ‘All things bright and beautiful’, nature can also be ‘red in tooth and claw’. And that, I think, makes it a somewhat complex prism through which we may or may not see and sense the presence and activity of God.
Many people say they feel close to God when they are close to nature – I suppose that’s the essence of a hymn like ‘How Great Thou Art’. I can to some extent empathise with that view – and yet...!
The antics of our garden magpies are examples of the territorial instinct of birds – in their world it really is the ‘survival of the fittest’. So I suppose I want to put a few caveats after that biblical phrase ‘The heavens declare the glory of God’.
I believe that part of our God-given humanity is that we have something about us that does bring a sense of dignity to our species (homo sapiens) which is lacking in the ‘pica –pica’ (magpies) – and that is the ability to temper down our thuggish instincts and develop an understanding which values those who are ‘weaker’ than us. Now I know all of that, scientifically speaking, is probably because we are at the ‘top of the food’ chain – but theologically speaking it’s also got something to do with being ‘made in the image of God’.
Well - if the sun is out tomorrow perhaps we’ll have breakfast outside again - and I’ll try to give thanks not only for a new day but also for the magpies – my theological teachers for the week!
With best wishes,