Flight of freedom

Like most people who prattle about “liberty” and “freedom,” I hardly know what I am talking about — unless in the light of someone else’s miracle.

The wild animals have a defensible idea of freedom, or at least of their own, it seems to me. This must necessarily include a knowledge of restraints, including the identities of other wild animals who eat them. But in the life of every little sparrow there are moments of purest joy, when not only are they free of kestrels, and such limitations as hunger; they are indulging in play, which is part of their business, according to their conception of the joyful. Or so it has seemed to me, who have spent some time feeding and observing and (once) rescuing the sparrows. They are among my favourite “little brown jobs” or LBJs, as the ornithologists call them.

Christ himself points to the sparrows with approval, in the knowledge that the Hebrews, and the other humans, tend to disregard them, or may even find them rather annoying. They sell them two for a penny (in Matthew), or five for two pennies (in Luke). He echoes the Psalm: “For the sparrow hath found herself a house, and the turtur a nest for herself where she may lay her young ones.” And these nests are close to the altar of Our Lord.

In ancient, religious practice, liberty could be understood as the creature’s freedom, to go about the business for which he was created, without interference from ungodly tyrants. For men, in particular, have evolved, to where they assume God’s functions and privileges, and their politics now replaces religion. Only a few will confess their ungodliness, however.

And of course, the kestrel, too, denies he is ungodly. His liberty, too, will last only for a time, until it is taken away.