“My brother birds, you should greatly praise your Creator and love Him always.” – St. Francis of Assisi
On previous occasions, I have taken it upon myself to consider the theological depths of both architecture and babies. These two subjects have always been a fertile ground for theological expression, as witnessed by the rich poetry of Gothic architecture or the iconographic tradition of the Christ child in the arms of the Theotokos. Today I endeavor to plumb the depths of an unexplored theological image—or perhaps, as Pseudo-Dionysius would suggest, I shall rise above contemplation itself to see the truly transcendent, which is beyond very sight! Τοday I shall consider ducks.
Let us follow a Dionysian order of contemplation, ascending through hierarchies; let us see how ducks may teach what it means to be man. It seems to me that the Christian who imitates the ducks may be confident in his own sanctity. Consider the stories of St Francis, who preached to the birds. After he preached, the birds did not depart until he signed the cross, blessed them, and gave them permission to leave. How pitiable are we, that we cannot pray with as much attention and reverence as a duck! Such creatures never for a moment deny their creatureliness. Simply by swimming and being, ducks achieve their telos; surely they must feel some duck version of Eric Liddell’s satisfaction: “God made me with stubby legs. And when I waddle, I feel His pleasure.”
What can ducks show us about the life of the saints? If one has seen a sleeping duck, he will recall that it curls into a ball by tucking its legs and withdrawing its head. Such a sight must have been how Origen realized that the perfect shape is a sphere, and as such, our heavenly forms ought to be spherical. If one has seen that same sleeping duck guarded by an alert mate, he has experienced the vigilance of the cherubim outside Eden, or that of Christ in the kingdom of heaven. If one has seen a mother duck swimming with her young, he has witnessed a living icon of the Blessed Virgin leading the young faithful to the feet of Christ!
And finally, let us consider with wonderment and awe how ducks may teach us about history’s deepest mystery, the Incarnate Word. God has awarded the ducks the rare privilege of mobility in the skies, the land, and the water. Does not Christ exercise this same mobility? Beginning aloft in the heavens, he condescended to walk on earth among men, before he descended to the depths of hell. Can we not say that a diving duck evokes the Harrowing of Hell? And although the disciples lost faith, we have learned that such a dive is not permanent. Christ rose again, conquering death, and thereafter every duck who resurfaces is a testament to the Lord’s steadfastness. More than this, Christ ascended again to sit on the right hand of his Father; and every duck flies again, in order to continue his reenactment of Christ’s journey for all who have eyes to see.
James Whitaker is a graduate student in the theology department. He has been trying to convince EIC Emerita Mary Frances Myler that Dungeons & Dragons is cool and fun. To support him, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Ken Billington, via Wikimedia Commons