I don't know why they call it the bird-song. It's beautiful—and a delightful way to be ushered into wakefulness—but the morning call of the birds is not like any song I know.
Bird-song is sporadic and arrhythmic, playfully interweaving the chattering of sparrows with the whistle of tui. It has no beginning or end, no noticeable motif or hook—yet the eclectic orchestra of our feathered friends called me into this morning. With time to kill, I decided to open my day with a Sunday stroll—so gathered my iPod and began to walk alongside the Waikato River.
My usual modus operandi is to go for a run with nature as my soundtrack, so this was somewhat unique for me. As I walked, buds firmly implanted in my ears, I noticed that the music was not just incidental to my experience. Rather than mere reverberations in space, these tunes were formative and powerful.
I noticed this as I listened to Arcade Fire's Funeral. This brilliant album is energetic yet melancholic, with different instruments and rhythms ebbing and flowing throughout the tracks. It is multilayered, with diverse arrangements and tunes surrounding the melody, sometimes jarring, sometimes harmonious.
As this music echoed in my ears, the world began to resonate with the soundtrack that surrounded. The birds seemed to appear sporadically, dancing and swooping in the air with a playful manner. Pukeko crashed out in surprise, and joined in with the sparrows and starlings, before darting back into the undergrowth.
My feet beat in time with the drums, my mood roller-coasted along with the changing melodies. The colours of nature seemed to emphasise their difference, with greens, browns, blues and reds splashing together in a visual cacophony. The world was complex, it was charged—it was dynamic and alive.
After 20 minutes of this, I decided to change from indie to classical. The music was more subdued and united, with instruments working together to create chords and harmonies. The pacing was more deliberate and the style more peaceful—everything became more constant.
And the world subtly transformed around me. The same birds suddenly flew with grace. The colours blended smoothly, hiding their individuality and creating a landscape. The cows chewed contentedly, wandering the fields like courtiers on a picnic outing. The world's energy was controlled, with a secure stability permeating all. My steps slowed, and I took it all in—focussed on the whole, rather than the particulars.
Plato likes to party
Perhaps I am overselling the point, but the different soundtracks did shape my sensory experience into two different worlds. A few thousand years ago, Plato expressed this much more eloquently than I can, saying 'Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.' The soundscapes we choose shape our lives.
I think this is true of stories, as well. At some imperceptible, soul-level, the stories that we choose to surround ourselves with shape the worlds we inhabit. We allow stories and voices to shape our understanding of beauty, success and meaning—and suddenly the world begins to shift in that direction. That which appears innate is actually the result of the sounds and dreams we soak ourselves in.
Amos called you a cow
The Old Testament prophets confuse me; but they are also intriguing. They write poems and craft songs jarring against the popular stories of the day.
Amos dubbed the beautiful rich socialites 'cows', singing tunes telling of their demise at the hands of invaders. Isaiah called the land of milk and honey a place of thorns and desert. These songs—and many more—were so provocative and insulting to the hearers because they were so very true.
I'm a nerd by nature, and my default reaction to a lack in my life is to study and learn. This has merit, but it is not the sum-total pathway to transformation. Instead, at some primal level, I need to reteach myself to listen to the true story and be shaped by this. Not by studying it—or at least, not just by studying it—but by listening and soaking in it.
I guess the danger of study is I often tend to shape and twist my subject into the frames I have carefully created beforehand. Yet, trying to understand the story of God is like trying to dress an octopus. You pin one arm down, and another comes free. The story is full of surprises, shocking language, confusion and some sections that are just downright hard to swallow.
But isn't life like that? Is life not full of surprises? Shocking and confusing? And sometimes hard to comprehend?
So, I'd encourage you to learn the art of soaking in the story of scripture. Read it aloud and listen to it as you go and sit down. Let the happy bits, the sad bits, the confusing bits and the disagreeable bits become familiar to you.
Allow this story and song to get under your skin, into your bones and direct your heartbeat. And may this story help all of us to see the world differently, more truly, and live in a way that rings out as a new tune to a world desperate for new songs.
Jeremy has never tried to dress an octopus. He has battled a cat, is 29 years old and lives in Cambridge.
Jeremy Suisted's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-suisted.html