We were walking quietly along a forest path in the foothills of the Himalayas, when suddenly a flutter of wings and movement in the trees overhead caught my attention. There it was, what I had been hoping to see . . . the red-billed blue magpie.
For the past several years during our time in India, we’ve taken a period of seclusion at a remote guest house on Abbott Mount in the Almora district of northern India. The views are spectacular, with panoramas of the Himalayas adorned with such magnificent peaks as Nanda Devi and Panchachuli.
Each year as we prepare to go to Abbott Mount, two desires arise in my heart. One is a soul call: “I want to feel God’s presence more deeply in meditation.” The other is much more mundane, yet it still pulls at me: “I’d love to get a good look at the elusive red-billed blue magpie.”
We’d caught glimpses of this beautiful bird for the past three years when we visited the mountains. The magpie has a red bill, a brilliant blue body about ten inches long, and a blue-and-white-striped tail nearly twice as long as its body. But one has to see it in flight to truly appreciate the magpie’s unique beauty. As it flies, its long tail undulates, so that you see a marvelous wavelike motion of blue and white stripes moving through the air.
So there we were that morning this past October, when much to our delight, the magpie suddenly appeared before us. “You elusive charmer,” I said to myself, “thank you for revealing yourself.”
Then I thought that perhaps my true goal for our trip—to feel God’s presence deeply—and the desire to see the magpie were intertwined. I realized that the steps I’d taken to see this lovely bird were basically the same steps I’d been taking to see God:
- First, I truly wanted to see the objects of my desire. Had I been totally indifferent to their existence (God’s or the magpie’s), I knew I wouldn’t perceive them.
- I reached out to feel their consciousness, and inwardly asked them to appear. I tried to project my consciousness to feel their being, to commune with them, and to invite them to come to me.
- I remained patiently watchful, and inwardly alert for their coming. It’s important to be attentive, because God comes, as Jesus said, “like a thief in night.” You can never predict when your heart’s desire will appear, so I try not to let my attention waver as I patiently await its coming.
- When the moment did come that the magpie appeared, I remained calm and quiet, so that I wouldn’t drive it away in my excitement. The longer I could stay still, the nearer the magpie came to us, until finally it flew quite close. The same is true when we feel God’s presence or enter into any deep state of meditation. Calmness prolongs and deepens the experience.
- Inwardly I expressed gratitude for the experience and tried not to be attached to it, knowing the magpie could fly away at any time. God reveals Himself to us when our hearts are at rest and grateful for each moment that He is with us.
I actually felt that the magpie enjoyed appearing to us, because it could sense our deep appreciation of its beauty. So, too, I feel that God wants to reveal Himself to us, when He sees we truly appreciate what He has come to offer.
The seclusion at Abbott Mount brought us the fulfillment of our two desires and taught us many things. We can draw God’s presence, like that of the beautiful magpie, when we sensitively call, inwardly listen, patiently wait, and gratefully receive Him in our hearts.
Enjoying the unexpected moments of life,