This article was originally published on BenSwann.com on Dec. 25 2014 and has been edited for publication on IVN.
I arrived in England yesterday from my home in the States and the jet-lag had the better of me this morning by 4:45 am.
Dad, whom I have traveled across the Atlantic to spend Christmas with, is still in bed as I write this, and I am sitting alone on his couch in a silent house.
Nevertheless, I have already received my biggest Christmas greeting of the day. A little bird came to give it to me.
Creeping around Dad’s house with my first cup of tea in hand, so as not to wake anyone, I wondered over to the living room window to see the dawn – something my body clock prevents me from doing when I am not jet-lagged. Peering out, I saw in the little garden below me a rather stereotypical bird house. Perched on top of it, right there on the front of the roof of the box, was a robin – the very symbol of an English Christmas.
I smiled at the coincidence of it; the simplicity of it; the Christmassyness of it. It was if the universe had just conspired to make me a Christmas card in the three dimensions of reality.
Of course, the little robin wasn’t there to deliver to me a Christmas greeting. After all, he didn’t know I was going to look out of the window right then. And he couldn’t – because he’s a robin.
People often say that we “come into the world”. But we don’t: we come out of it. As the wonderful Alan Watts used to say, just as an apple tree “apples”, so the universe “peoples”. It also “robins” and, I’m pleased to note, it also “Robins”, for Robin happens to be my name.
Since Isaac Newton, it has been fashionable to believe that consciousness is an “emergent property” of physical stuff, which might fancifully be expressed as the idea that consciousness is fundamentally a very complicated rock. But that idea is a noetic and cultural fashion: it’s not scientific as much as it is scientistic.
As much as I love the intellectual sincerity and commitment to empiricism of people like Richard Dawkins, who would essentially agree with that view, I don’t hold to it. More like most people throughout most of history and most of the world, I suspect the opposite is closer to the truth: that a rock is a very simple form of consciousness – which enables me to wonder if the two robins of my story – the big Robin (me), and the little Robin (my Yuletide avian acquaintance) – are expressions of the Divine, or in Christian terms, beings “made in God’s image”. It also allows me to conceive of Love as fundamentally real, and fundamentally meaningful, rather than just a sensation that arises from a cosmic accident involving lots of particles.
But why? Why would the Divine express Itself in Robins and robins and everything else in the world? Because – and here’s another one of my working hypotheses – that is the only way It can experience what It knows Itself to be. And the most important aspect of Its nature is Love. There’s more to it than that, of course, but on a Christmas Day spent with family and with thoughts of loved ones elsewhere, that seems the aspect of All That Is that is worth focusing on.
Whatever your metaphysical disposition may be, this is for sure: you cannot fully understand one part of our universe without knowing all of it. To explain completely everything there is to know about a single grain of sand would take in all the laws of nature and “initial conditions” of the universe, if there are any. And to specify them would be (with allowances for the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics,) to explain the whole universe. William Blake wasn’t being fanciful when he wrote of seeing “a world in a grain of sand”.
Whether you prefer rock-as-crude-consciousness or universe-in-a-grain-of-sand, you’re still left with We Are All One, and little robin and big Robin as just two fluctuations of the same ultimate reality –what All-That-Is is doing and here and now. Little robin and I are fundamentally united.
I have bookshelves full of New Testament history and biblical exegesis. I was rather preoccupied with it for years as a young adult. And the traditional Christmas story that has been handed down in Christmas sermons in institutions of organized religion is, in my humble opinion (and to be as kind as I can possibly be), extremely incomplete and misrepresented. But the bigger story – indeed, the universe-sized story – that Love is ultimate reality and manifests in physical form, has to my mind, a lot more going for it. And for what it’s worth, I type that as someone academically trained in the physical sciences and the philosophy of science.
If it is the case that the little robin and I are ultimately the same thing – fluctuations of an underlying All That Is – then I have to wonder if there is any way I could have been standing at my Dad’s window a few hours ago without the little robin’s looking back at me from that bird house.
Now I am being more fanciful than Blake, perhaps, but whatever the truth of all that, I saw a robin on Christmas morning and he jolted me into the here and now and a direct of experience of peacefulness and oneness and Love. And I am pretty sure if it weren’t Christmas day, and it wasn’t a robin, the symbol of Christmas, he wouldn’t have done that.
So whether he intended it or not, the little robin brought me, in a very deep sense, my Christmas greeting this morning.
And since it’s Christmas Day, which is a rather good day for dwelling on things Divine and fanciful (for some of you, they will be the same thing, and for others they certainly won’t be), I’ll allow myself the thought that just because the little robin didn’t know he was bringing me a Christmas message of peace of Love doesn’t necessarily mean that All That Is didn’t put him there for that very purpose.
So from that robin, through this Robin, to all of you, my readers – whether you believe yourself to be a very complicated machine or a rather limited expression of the Divine – I wish you very much Love and a truly happy Christmas.
Image: Thames Valley Birds