One way of looking at a blackbird followed by thirteen more whilst I registered the Memorial (Unitarian) Church in Cambridge for same-sex marriages . . .

A blackbird bathes this morning in our church garden 
This morning I finally managed to sort out the matter of registering the Memorial (Unitarian) Church here in Cambridge for same-sex marriages. The hold up - we thought we had completed the process nearly a month ago - was due to the General Register Office (GRO) being unsure whether we, as a local, independent church, had the authority to register ourselves. We do, of course, and, thanks to the fact that, as Unitarians and Free Christians, we are fortunate to have a national Chief Officer, Derek McAuley, who was able authoritatively to confirm on our behalf our independent status (there's a deep, free religious irony lurking in all this, is there not? . . .) it's all now been sorted and we should have some kind of confirmatory piece of paper in our possession in a few days. Huzzah! I think it's worth adding my thanks to the local register office who were most helpful throughout.

Anyway, whilst I was trying to get through to the GRO I enjoyed watching a blackbird bathing in the bird bath in our church garden. I'm a big Wallace Stevens fan and so his poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird", naturally, came to mind. It occurred to me that his fourth "way" was highly relevant to what I was doing as I waited at the end of the phone . . .

A man and a woman 
Are one. 
A man and a woman and a blackbird 
Are one.

This verse speaks, of course, directly to a particularly unitarian (i.e. non-dualist) concern that, regardless of the divisions we as humans so often make between ourselves and the rest of the natural world, everything is, in fact, related to everything else in the deepest way imaginable. We are all "married" to each other whether we like it or not and somehow we need to find more and more ways acknowledge this - religiously. Same-sex marriage is just one way of doing this - necessary, but not in any way sufficient.

For me, at least, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 is simply one more important step towards the real final goal - namely, the public and private recognition of our interconnectedness with the natural world.  This non-dualist (i.e. unitarian) religious naturalist attitude to nature changes everything. As one of my great philosophical influences, Paul Wienphal (1916-1980) said, it means "All natural things, including the man-made, come to be respected, and . . . we develop a sense of diligence toward them" (Radical Spinoza, New York University Press, 1979, p. 158). As another of my heroes, George de Benneville (1703-1793) put it, "The Inner Spirit makes [us] feel that behind every appearance of diversity there is an interdependent unity of all things."

This beautiful blackbird bathing outside helped me see beyond the momentary, frustrating legal surface of this act of registration to the enduring and deeply satisfying religious (and ecological) reasons for why we, as a liberal religious community, are doing it. As Stevens says below, I feel minded to say that the blackbird, too,  "is involved in what I know."


'Nuff, said. Here's Wallace Stevens' wonderful poem in full.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird
by Wallace Stevens

I
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird.

II
I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

III
The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

IV
A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a blackbird
Are one.

V
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.

VI
Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the blackbird
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

VII
O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the blackbird
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

VIII
I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the blackbird is involved
In what I know.

IX
When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

X
At the sight of blackbirds
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

XI
He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For blackbirds.

XII
The river is moving.
The blackbird must be flying.

XIII
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
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