The eider duck. My favourite bird. Probably because I always associate it with my visits to highlands of Scotland. The drake’s flamboyant plumage and ‘un-duck’ like call set it apart from many other wildfowl. Apparently it was also a favourite of St Cuthbert, even to the point of it being commonly known as “Cuthbert’s duck”.
February is upon us. Nature is about to wake up and the dawn chorus has taken on a new vigour and the birds of this land are thinking about starting new families as we approach the feast of St Valentine. A feast readily adopted by all walks of life… and commerce, but one I feel must be a strange time for those who have decided to follow a celibate lifestyle.
I have encountered both men and women who have chosen to take up a vow of celibacy. Talking with two men who had chosen this path left a lasting impression on my soul. Their separation by time and great distance was reflected in their own personal paths that were poles apart.
The first had expressed an overwhelming sense of relief after taking his vow. The pressures to be ‘male’ and all that it entails in our current society had gone, and no longer played on his mind. The release from all this allowed him to simply pursue his relationship with his Heavenly Father and Creator.
The second had felt led to give up his desire for partnership, intimacy and the unique love that is expressed through eros. His love for The Christ and His sacrifice through His death on the Cross led him to make his own sacrifice in order, as with the first, to simply pursue his relationship with his Heavenly Father and Creator. As with any true gift and sacrifice, for this individual, it cut deep into his own being at the point of giving, but an act that he had never regretted.
For one, a great relief and release, for another the sacrificial and painful loss of a limb. But both in pursuit of a closer relationship with God.
I am reminded of the film, “The name of the rose”. Not everyone’s cup of tea as it is quite violent and deals with some contentious issues. But the underlying story is recounted by an old monk about his adventures as a young novice. He falls in love with a girl, but decides to continue on his solitary path as a monk. He recounts that although he never regretted his decision, he is still haunted by her face and, that to his dying day, he never knew her name.
The choice to take such a vow, may to many, seem strange and even alien, yet the desire to seek the face of God is not. To me, such a vow is both a facilitator and a result of such a holy quest.
So, take another look at the Eider duck. Yes, there is the beautiful, perfect plumage as an advert to his ‘maleness’. But look deeper, and you will see the colours of a habit and scapula of a well known monastic order…
God bless your own path this springtime.