I moved this year from a home in the country to the city. For 20 years I watched amazing birds come to my feeder. Some days, dozens of cardinals in their crimson glory waited for their chance at my sunflower seeds. I hosted blue jays and gold finches and even a pair of nesting pileated woodpeckers.
It’s not the same in the city. We have woods close to our home but the visitors to our feeder are ordinary. There are brown speckled birds, small gray ruffled birds, and black noisy ones. All are quite unexciting. I was disappointed at first. I was used to such peak experiences, where each day I’d run to the window to exalt the glory of the gifts I received from nature.
And then I thought, “well these birds were there too, I just never noticed them.” Clouded by the glory of the well-dressed visitors, these common guests got none of my attention.
It’s the same, I think, with spiritual practice. When we commit to a daily time of meditation or prayer, we expect transcendence. There’s a chance we may get it. We feel connected to our deepest self and the glory of that is rich and rewarding. We may have moments where the veil of lie’s drudgery is lifted and we connect with the Divine. In other words we see cardinals by the dozen. Once this happens, I think we naively believe that this is the only spiritual experience worth having and we chase it with intention and diligence. In the meantime the ordinary visitors fill our practice. The brown speckled birds are everywhere.
The trick is to treat them as honored guests, to know them deeply and to rejoice in their presence in our life. To know their subtle message and to learn the reasons they show up as our guides. It is here, I believe, that real spiritual work takes place. This is the harder part, perhaps the deeper part. The part that calls us to have faith in the mystery, and to trust that all is revealed in the ordinary.