"Now. Which way is Africa? Think it might be south. Time to look out the passport, pack and check in."
There was a time when the miracle of migrating swallows would have made us wonder, and maybe even restore our fading capacity for wonder. But what the heck, what's so remarkable about a built in sat-nav? There's one in most cars nowadays.
Precisely. We've got so used to our own cleverness, we hardly register the wonders around us. I've been wondering about that word - wonder. It ranges from curiosity to awe, and describes mental processes that are include slowed down thought, inner questioning and that head-shaking humility that gladly confesses something is, well, wonderful.
So when I saw this swallow on the weather vane at Pitmedden House, around 8.30 on a late summer evening, it was a gently religious moment. "Even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow builds her nest near your altar...", the Psalmist pointed out to God, not that God was unaware of this. Ever since my childhood on Ayrshire farms I've admired these wee birds - their speed and agility in flight, the craftsmanship of a nest made of hundreds of mud balls, held together by woven straw and lined with feathers, built into eaves, and with an entry door the size of a 10p piece. And it flies to southern Africa, 200 miles per day, at speeds up to 35mph. Makes you wonder - well, doesn't it.
We begin to lose an intellectual naivete essential to the health of our souls when we are no longer easily moved to wonder, when the surfeit of novelty and stimulus from elsewhere dulls the ears and blurs the eyes, and when our inner selves become so self-absorbed that the selfie matters more than the landscape, and my image displaces my substance. The irony of the photo lies, perhaps, in the fact that it's we postmodern sophisticates who are unsure of who we are, where we are, and where we are going, not the swallow - she knows, she just knows. In that sense, as a follower of Jesus, this photo gives food for thought, and I get the Psalmist's wise naivete - "even the swallow builds her nest, feels at home, takes up residence, near your altar."
"Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God." (Heschel) And in the end, worship leads to wonder just as wonder leads to worship. Charles Wesley loved the word wonder, it occurs all over the place in his hymns. Perhaps the most famous speaks of the fulfilment of that cognitive humility mentioned earlier, when in the beatific vision we are "lost in wonder, love and praise."