A robin’s nest sits on the outer corner of my apartment building. I walk past it every day. The female sits in the nest while the male perches on the balcony next to her, watching her and waiting upon her needs. Sometimes, I spot them nestled together, as if cuddling — undoubtably an adorable couple, and they seem quite in love.
Many may object and claim it preposterous to retroject human emotions of companionship onto non-human animals, implying a deep ontological chasm between we and our feathered friends. However, I lie agnostic against such an objection on the consideration of Darwin’s insight. What we’ve learned from Darwin is that human and non-human animal emotions and functions in life vary more precisely in degree rather than in kind. Humans are most definitely animals — albeit animals with highly developed neuro-systems. Therefore, we do not occupy a transcendent ontological realm above the other creatures of Earth. Human love and the companionship of other animal pair-bonding are certainly not identical, but neither are they spectrums apart.
As I’ve written before, we often have a mistaken view of our origins. We see this planet’s evolutionary history as a horror comedy, a cannibal holocaust of self-serving slaughter. But that’s simply not the accurate picture of life. Yes, there is predation, suffering, and death spanning across millions and millions of years. But alongside this also exists millions of years of self-sacrifice, nurturing, and companionship.
To be sure, life is not all puppies and unicorn rainbows (a “comedy” in the classical sense). But neither is it entirely a tragedy. Life, properly understood, is a natural tragicomedy, with laughter and tears bursting forth in unison.
However, it still remains a human tendency to focus on the tragedies. It is, after all, typically the most horrific events that linger clearest in our minds. Events like mass extinction or genocide stand as giants when we map out the history of our planet. Our focus lies upon the crescendos of horrendous suffering (example: the extinction of the dinosaurs) or upon triumphant love (example: the perseverance of the Civil Rights movement).
And yet, as this pendulum swings, we neglect the subtle beauties of existence, like the two robins outside my door. We are so preoccupied with school and work and stress and anxiety that we forget to notice the transcendental beauty of wildflowers growing around us, or the mellifluous flow of water through a creek, or how birds speak in song.
The religious life should be a vessel through which we learn how to appreciate these subtle beauties. From a Christian perspective, these beauties give praise to God, and God is glorified by our appreciation of His creation. Unfortunately, such sentiments are neglected in the American church, and many pastors prefer to rally against transsexuals rather than enable their congregations to see God’s majesty in the cherry blossom trees, the cuddling otters, or the nestling robins.
The world is littered with heartache, and each of us must wrestle with the existential dimension of the problem of evil, questioning why a loving God would allow so much violence and suffering. And this existential anxiety is only heightened if we are blind to the infinite beauties around us and the parqueted moments of life that make existence worth it — not to mention that we find God himself in these very moments.