Friday, January 1, 2010


Last week on a typical monsoon day in Louisiana, I sat in the Winn Dixie parking lot, waiting for a shopper to pick up a few items from the store and watching passersby slosh through ever-widening pools of water. Seagulls soared through the lot, now dark silver in color, now white, their colors conforming to the color of cloud patches overhead. I wondered if the gulls thought a beach lay nearby and if they were puzzled about the lack of sand. I know that they’re ground nesting carnivores, but their hunting ground is usually near the ocean where they search for crabs and small fish. They also nest in dense colonies, but only a few gulls dipped over the lot. Did they think that the umbrellas moving in and out were beach umbrellas? Did they think the smells coming from the deli signaled a picnic? By the time the shopper returned to the car, most of the gulls had dispersed, except for a lone scavenger that landed on a “$4/12 Pepsi” sign and finding no food, sailed off, squawking loudly, into black rain clouds.

After I returned home, I sat for a few moments in my striped “reflecting chair” in the living room, thinking about the similarity between the lone seagull and the 1970 bestseller, JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL. It’s the story about a seagull who tires of petty squabbles among his scavenging flock and develops a yen to learn all he can about flying. He’s expelled from the flock because of his non-conformity and unwillingness to engage in fellow gull squabbles. Undaunted, he makes higher and higher flights and finally reaches a point where he can fly no higher. Befriended by two caring seagulls, he joins another gull society to learn a new way of being. The gulls teach him “You’ve got to understand that a seagull is an unlimited idea of freedom, an image of the Great Gull (God). You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way.”

There are themes of love and forgiveness throughout Jonathan’s learning, and he ultimately becomes a teacher, expressing wise commentary about trespassing rules that are rigidly followed (seagulls that are Pharisees?). Jonathan has a vision to teach the idea that despite differences in individual gulls, there’s something that binds them all together. No ambiguity here–the theme emphasizes the idea of a caring, truly spiritual community where “all are welcome at the table.”

You may think JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL is an oversimplified book, but I think it’s a New Year’s Day story about human potential and the possibilities of developing a spiritual path that begins “by knowing you have already arrived.”


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