Do you know about the Merlin app? If not, I have a wonderful tip for you. Merlin is a free global bird guide for birds in the US, Canada, and Europe, the perfect companion for summer travels as well as staycations. I learned about it this spring from my friend Barbara, a seasoned naturalist.
Here’s how it works: Merlin offers several tools to identify a bird but the one I love most is called Sound ID. All you have to do is click on that option and start listening to whatever winged creature is flying by or singing in your trees. Then with a few simple clicks, Merlin creates a list of all the birds you have heard, with date and location.
Having Merlin has doubled the amount of time I spend outdoors, wandering through my yard, or sitting quietly absorbing the life-giving essence of God’s life-giving creation as I slowly but surely develop the ability to listen- really listen.
A fabulous book entitled The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Creative, by Florence Williams includes a chapter called Bird Brain in which the author says, “In both birds and humans, the ability to respond emotionally to linguistic and musical sounds became mission critical for mating, communication, and survival. The people who named Twitter know what they were doing. Psych studies using birdsong consistently show improvements in mood and mental alertness.”
Having used Merlin consistently for three months (I open it in all sorts of places: parks, friends’ yards, even parking lots), I can attest to those benefits but also to something else: a keener awareness that I need to LISTEN more attentively to what people say to me so that I understand what they actually say, not what I expect or imagine them to say.
The Hebrew word for listen is shema, which means to go far beyond what our ears can hear, to really pay attention. The Shema, or Shema Yisrael, is the central affirmation of Judaism:
Hear, O Israel: the Lord is your God; the Lord is One. -Deuteronomy 6:4
Jesus must have been raised to say the Shema every morning and evening. Perhaps that explains why he often ended his parables and teachings (especially the more difficult ones) with, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” (Matthew 11:15; Mark 4:9, 23 for example).
I like to think Jesus had a great sense of humor, and knowing that all humans have ears, ‘those who have ears to hear, let them hear,’ he was speaking to everyone, not just first-century folks.
Adding Merlin to my daily routine has helped me to listen better on so many levels; it has calmed my overactive imagination, lowered my heart rate…and been a barrel of fun! On May 15, at 6 pm, I recorded hearing a dozen different birds in the yard: Carolina Chickadees, Hooded Warblers, Eastern Towhees, Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmouse (Titmice?), Wood Thrushes, Carolina Wrens, European Starlings, American Redstarts, Blue Jays, American Robins, Northern Cardinals (who are insistently LOUD!)
Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!