Matt D’Antuono is a physics teacher in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and seven children. He holds bachelor’s degrees in physics and philosophy, a master’s degree in special education, and is working on a master’s degree in philosophy at Holy Apostles in Cromwell, Connecticut. He returned to the Catholic Church in 2008. He is the author of A Fool’s Errand: A Brief, Informal Introduction to Philosophy for Young Catholics, The Wiseguy and the Fool and Philosophy Fridays. On YouTube you can find him at DonecRequiescat and his family at MisterD418.
My young children sometimes ask me what my favorite color is. I think they are somewhat disappointed when I often respond, “I am not experiencing a preference for any particular color at the moment.” The same goes for food, books, movies, etc. It seems to be something of a norm in our culture that someone has a favorite thing and that they stick to it, as if their favorites form a part of their identity. I take favorite to mean, simply, what I have a preference for at the moment. My favorite color would be the one that, if I had to look at one color for the rest of my life, it would be that one. For me, those preferences change from time to time.
So, my favorites of things change. And I have a new favorite children’s book: The Mountain That Loved a Bird, by Alice McLerran. It tells the story of a bird that lands on a mountain of rock that had never experienced any life of any kind. The mountain talks to the bird, asks it about its life, and asks the bird to stay. The bird explains that she cannot stay because the mountain is not hospitable for life, but that she or one of her offspring would return each spring, but only for a brief visit, because the mountain actually cares for the bird’s company. Over the course of many years, the mountain appreciates the beauty of the bird more and more, and he asks every spring if the bird could stay. After 99 springs the mountain again asks the bird to stay, but when she says that she cannot, the heart of the mountain breaks, and a stream of tears begins to flow. It is from this stream that the possibility for life begins. Each following year, the little bird brings back a new seed, and plants begin to grow on the mountain. Eventually, the mountain is hospitable for wildlife, and the birds come to stay.
I do not know if the author intended any spiritual allegories, but there are many metaphors that can be gleaned from this enchanting story.
First of all, it was the beauty of the bird that entranced the mountain and later broke its heart. Beauty has a way of doing that to us, and it is inescapable. In a world that denies truth, calls good relative, and claims that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, real beauty still affects us deeply and breaks through our defenses.
Secondly, it was from the suffering of the mountain that new life became possible. Suffering is not the end. Suffering has redemptive power. In a culture that says suffering can be ended by taking one’s life, this book implies that suffering actually contains transformative power for the sufferer and those around him. Our most difficult trials can become our greatest assets.
I have heard it said that you can’t teach someone a lesson if he is not enrolled in the course. We must be broken and admit our brokenness before we submit ourselves to God’s saving work in our lives. The first step of the famous 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit powerlessness and that life has become unmanageable. This is the psychological value of confession; we must say out loud what we have done so that we can fully realize what we have done. Only then can we most fully turn away from what we regret and toward God.
Then, of course, there is the metaphor for Jesus himself, the heart of humanity. Without Christ, the human race is lifeless and helpless. But Jesus become not just a man, but Man. He is the heart of the human race, the new Adam, and we responded to him by crushing and breaking him. From his heart flowed blood and water, just as the stream of tears flowed from the heart of the mountain, and it is from that blood and water that the vibrant life of the Church was born. Now, “birds” from all over the world nest in her branches.
While mountains, landscapes and my favorite things change, these spiritual truths do not change. God uses beauty and allows tragedy to break through to our core and give us new life. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)