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May 13, 2005
Look how nice you are, I say to the cardinal who has just alighted on the tray feeder. He says nothing, and does not look at me, but I know he knows. Then a blue jay joins him at the other end of the tray, and for a moment they make a picture: they both face the same way, showing me their profiles, their respective bright red and gorgeous blue feathers. Then they leave, each with a sunflower seed in his beak.

After this, the wife of the cardinal appears for a snack, and then the downy woodpecker. In between these star turns, dozens of extras come and go: numerous finches, fat doves, big black grackles. At one point, six large doves jockey for position: doves symbolize peace only to human beings, not to each other. Those birds can fight.

Some birds are prizes, and everyone wants to see them. Some birds are star birds. And the rest of them come and go through life, below the radar screen of their human observers.

But they are beautiful to each other. They see something other than the dun-colored reality we see, a warm, sexy welcome we do not discern. They sing their excitement to each other and their song is complex, full of trills and cadenzas. In the course of it, an agreement is reached, and off they go together, into the eaves of the house or the where the branch joins the truck of a tree. Somewhere a little more private than the feeder.

There have been times in history when Christians thought the very fact of sex itself was sin. That God didn't intend for us to have it, or that its only purpose was the procreation of the race and you weren't supposed to enjoy it. This has been a central argument against same-sex unions: They don't cause babies. They're just for joy. That can't be right.

But even the birds sing with the joy of it. Or perhaps they do not: perhaps what they sing is not joy, not excitement, perhaps they are governed only by the blindness of instinct, perhaps we should resist human concepts like joy when we speak of nature. Perhaps we should not seek commonality with the birds, with any of the animals. Perhaps the distance between us is too great to speak of love and what they do in the same breath.

But I think we can. God created us continuously with the other animals, and left us as we are: animated by our own instincts, full of the earth and its powerful forces, hip deep in the mud and halfway to heaven, all at the same time. The union of body and soul has always been a mystery to us, and we will never understand it. But we cannot live without either one; when we try, we become monstrous.

Of course we take joy in our carnal nature. Of course God intends it. Of course it is mysterious, and it will remain so: What can they possibly see in each other? we wonder when a couple we consider odd walks happily by. We don't know, and we don't have to know. My ability to imagine other people's sexual unions is not the test of their validity. For that, they must be grateful to God alone.
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