PHILOSOPHY

Kierkegaard On How Lilies And Birds Can Teach Us To Pray Genuinely

Letting Nature Lead Us; First Seeking God’s Kingdom; Matthew 6:24–34

R. C. Abbott
9 min readMar 8, 2021

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Painting of a girl collecting lilies from a pond by Eastman Johnson. Painted in 1865. Oil on board.
Gathering Lilies, 1865. Eastman Johnson.

The idea of learning from nature is nothing new. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years, and current movements around the world are pushing people back into this space of contemplating the slow and gentle lessons to be found in nature. Movements like slow living, re-wilding, and heirloom seeding are just a few examples of the potent conversations happening right now surrounding the wisdom of the natural world.

Of course, when Kierkegaard does it, you know it’s going to have a profound tie to faith and existing in spite of the trials of anxiety and despair, in spite of the absurdity of some elements of the human experience.

In his series of essays titled The Lily Of The Field And The Bird Of The Air, Kierkegaard takes part in what he calls “Three Godly Discourses.” It would almost be more fair to call them sermons, but given that Kierkegaard wasn’t ordained and he was a special kind of Christian (a phrase I’m using here to mean a genuine Christian), he probably wouldn’t be down with that.

The first discourse in the collection is entitled “Look at the birds of the air; consider the lily of the field.” It’s a direct quote from the book of Matthew 6:26 and 6:28. Both lines were spoken by Jesus as thought experiments, aimed to provide an antidote to anxiety. He suggests that instead of feeling woe or anxiety about tomorrow, worrying about how we are to survive and make ends meet, we should look at the birds of the air and consider the lily of the field. They don’t worry as we do, yet all their needs are met.

Kierkegaard begins by exploring the poet’s perspective on being like a bird, providing lyrical musings on the human condition compared to the spirit of a bird:

“Oh, would that I were a bird, or would that I were like a bird, like the free bird, full of wanderlust, which flies far, far away over sea and land, so close to the sky, to far, faraway lands — alas for myself: I feel simply…

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