“…A plant scientist, armed with his notebooks and equipment, is exploring the rainforests for new botanical discoveries, and he has hired an Indigenous guide to lead him. Knowing the scientist’s interests, the young guide takes care to point out the interesting species. The botanist looks at him appraisingly, surprised by his capacity. “Well, well, young man, you certainly know the names of a lot of these plants.” The guide nods and replies with downcast eyes. “Yes, I have learned the names of all the bushes, but I have yet to learn their songs.”
What might it mean to say that bushes have songs as author and botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer posits in this story? And what about trees, plants, and animals, and what about human beings; do we all have songs too?
‘Song’ in this instance is a metaphor, a figure of speech referring to the animating source of life that radiates from deep within all living things. Such songs are synonymous with soul, and what they “sing” though not audible, is nonetheless detectable if we listen with what St. Benedict has called the “ear of the heart.” All creation resonates with the sacred essence of life; if we listen deeply, we may perceive creation’s song despite the incessant noise within and around us.
From the Latin per sonare, the word ‘person’ means to sound through; life’s song does not come from us, but through us. Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard refers to this truth when she writes: “Something pummels us, something barely sheathed. Power broods and lights. We are played on like a pipe; our breath is not our own.” We are breathed into, we are enlivened with the life of the Spirit, we are instruments through which a sacred, silent sound is emitted.
The guide in the story above is said to have “downcast eyes” because he had not learned the songs of the bushes. It is sad when we fail to sense creation’s sacredness, for if we are not attuned to it, we miss the celestial truth that its collective sound is not that of a chorus but a choir, and that to which it gives voice is not so much a song as it is a hymn announcing the presence of the Holy.