The art of murmuration

Photo by Michael Sobsey Freedom Flight - Submitted
“Who are you whom I so faintly hear, who urge me ever on?

…What voice is this that speaks within me? Guides me towards the best?”

 – The New World, Terrence Malick.

“To watch the uncanny synchronization of a starling flock in flight

is to wonder if the birds aren’t actually a single entity,

governed by something beyond the usual rules of biology.”

– Brandon Keim, writer, Wired Magazine


This year, wending my way home, I have been mesmerized by birds defying borders.

On an ocean liner travelling across the Atlantic, I was accompanied by swooping white gulls. My heart went out to a weary creature who appeared on the prow of the ship.

Alone in the middle of the sea, it must have been amazed to find a place to land. The bird lay exhausted under a deck chair until a kind steward secreted it away to some shelter. After soaring so much in France, exploring the edges of theology’s vast landscapes during my studies in Paris, I feel like that tired bird. Though I have claimed the Maritimes as home, I feel a bit like a stranger heading for a foreign land. In need of repose along the way, I’ve stopped in New York city.

Here, the news the media blasts out across papers and screens makes me feel even more alien and fatigued. Wars of every kind in every realm seem to be making us all strangers in an ever-stranger world; women against men, children against their parents, brothers and sisters now foes. The power of accusation is gaining momentum while the truth that birds everywhere already know persists – even if fragile;

Love, the love that is the mystery informing all existence, knows no territory. So where you are from, the place you are asked to call home – even the family ties that might bind – these categorizations have nothing to do with the state of Grace all souls can live in – no matter what their situation. And it seems so much strife has its roots in disagreements over who owns what and where, who is related by blood or desire….

A short distance from Manhattan’s clamour, I enjoyed a peaceful moment standing on a pier in Hoboken, New Jersey. As I wing my way to Nova Scotia for the summer, I offer you, my fellow maritime birds, this reflection, with a photo by the poet Michael Sobsey.

Love, a delicate murmuration

Make of yourselves a delicate murmuration

be content as a roving, spare, cluster

of ‘some’ in a flock

instead of craving to be

amongst a busy mass

of many, accusing.

Resist, by your elegant flight plans,

the domineering black clouds

that are the crowds of little social media starlings

striving in their desperate mobs

where they pray to avoid the ‘danger’, the reality, that

you so fearlessly face.

They dance around the fellow bird they’ve condemned.

They whirl feverishly to outmaneuver their enemy.

Be braver. Circle the hawk who haunts your territory.

Make of your gliding, bounding and soaring movements

an embrace to calm the ravenous hunter.

You know by the views you enjoy, the big picture sky

that you float through so gracefully,

that the flying beast is merely unaware, undeveloped.

It cannot perceive alternatives to the flesh it seeks.

The starlings stay safe in clumsy throngs to outfly that bloodthirsty hawk.

But it is the littler birds like you,

oh, anonymous specks of the grand silhouette,

you, the tiny hope-filled souls

who triumph and expand peace,

by fearlessly encircling the hunter with your fluttering feathered hearts.

You push out the limits that terror has formed.

You transform a hawk’s lust for battle

into a creature’s transcendence, by love.

Yes, that is what your lace-like pattern against a bleak sky announces.

You are moving notes of braille for our earthbound eyes.

As the contours of your trajectories come into contact with the eyes of my heart and soul,

I yearn for the love you write on the clouds

before you disappear to heal another hawk lost above a different civilization.

For love, you have shown me, has no territory

while hatred draws deep divides,

chasms delineating our savage exiling of conquered fellows.

And so belonging nowhere in the lands where

mobs claim triumph by small certainties about the future,

I will follow you as a citizen of the here and now

into the limitless place,

where a delicate murmuration is all we really are.

For love, true love, has no territory.

Magdalena Randal is a filmmaker and artist currently living in the Maritimes.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 01:29h, 30 August Reply

    Thank you Magdalena!

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