Lily and Bird May 1849

All quotes are from the Walter Lowrie translation 1940, 1961

Soren Kierkegaard wrote many of his discourses based on the text from Matthew 6:24 to the end. “You cannot serve two masters.” The lily and the birds are the “silent teachers,” “profound teachers,” “obedient teachers” who have been appointed by Christ as the teachers of humanity. He wrote the preface on the 5th of May 1849, his 36th birthday.

The lily and bird teach silence, obedience, and joy in these Three Godly Discourses. The three stages in the life of the Christian as he or she seek the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33)

Listen to this quote from the Lowrie translation of Kierkegaard’s first discourse: Behold The Birds Of The Air; Consider The Lilies Of The Field.

Only in much fear and trembling can a man talk with God; in much fear and trembling. But to talk in much fear and trembling is difficult for a further reason; for as a sense of dread causes the bodily voice to fail, so also does much fear and trembling render the voice mute in silence. (p. 323 Lowrie) The first lesson is silence, not noisy talk, nor any whys, what ifs, just being along with God.

Many people try to remember the moment. The moment you were born is celebrated yearly, as is the moment you fell in love and was married. Kierkegaard puts the emphasis on the moment time and eternity met in you. The moment of your conversion.

So it is when the Gospel takes seriously the thought that the birds and the lilies are to be teachers. It is otherwise with the poet, or with the man who, just for lack of seriousness, in the silence amongst the lilies and the birds does not become perfectly silent…but becomes a poet. (p. 329)

Ah, if only the Gospel might succeed with the aid of the lilies and the birds in teaching thee, my hearer, seriousness, and me too, in making thee perfectly silent before God! That thou in silence mightiest forget thyself, what thy name is, thine own name, the renowned name, the pitiful name, the insignificant name, for the sake of praying in silence to God, ‘Hallowed by Thy name!’ (p. 330)

I like YouTuber AmygdalaVids discusson of the first discourse. He has some good videos.


Kierkegaard’s second discourse is titled: ‘No Man Can Serve Two Masters; For Either He Will Love The One And Hate The Other, Or Else He Will Hold To The One And Despise The Other’

What then does He demand by this either/or? He demands obedience, unconditional obedience. (p. 335) There is an either/or: either God/or … the rest is indifferent. (p. 333)

Now, in the solemn silence before God with the lilies and the birds, where accordingly there is nobody at all present, where accordingly there is no other intercourse for thee but with God-there indeed the rule holds good: either hold to Him/or despise Him. There is no excuse, for no one else is present, in any case no one is present in such a wise that thou canst hold to him without despising God; for precisely there in the silence it is clear how close God is to thee. (p. 334)

The lilies and the birds are unconditionally obedient to God. Herein they are masters. They understand, as beseemeth schoolmasters, masterfully to hit the unconditional – which, alas, most men miss and fail to hit. For there is one thing the lilies and the birds absolutely do not understand, namely, half-measures – which, alas, most men understand best. That a little disobedience, that this might not be absolute disobedience, is something the lilies and the birds cannot and will not understand. (p. 338)


The third discourse was titled; Behold, The Birds Of The Air: They Sow Not, Neither Do They Reap, Nor Gather Into Barns’ Unconcerned For The Morrow. ‘Consider The Grass Of The Field Which Today Is.’

What joy when the day dawns and the birds awaken early to the joy of the day; what joy, although tuned to another key, when the evening draws near and the birds hasten joyously home to their nests; and what joy all the long summer day! What joy when the bird – who does not merely sing at his work like a joyous laborer; but whose essential work is to sing – joyfully begins its song; what new joy when thereupon the neighbor begins, and then its opposite neighbor; and then when the whole chorus joins in, what joy; and when at last it is like a sea of tones to which forest and vale, heaven and earth, respond, a sea of tones in which he who struck the first note now tumbles head over heels with joy – what joy, what joy! And so it is throughout the bird’s whole life; everywhere and always it finds something, or rather it finds enough to rejoice over; it wastes not a single instant, but it would account every instant wasted in which it was not joyful. (p. 347-348)

The means of finding joy in the Christian walk is through silence and obedience.

Learn then of the lilies and the birds. Cast all thy care upon God! But joy thou shalt not cast away, that on the contrary thou shat hold fast, with all thy might, with all thy vital power. If thou wilt do this, it is easy to reckon that thou wilt always retain some  joy; for if thou dost cast all care away, thou dost still retain whatever thou hast of joyfulness. This, however, avails but little. Learn therefore furthermore from the lilies and the birds: cast all thy care upon God, entirely, absolutely, as the lilies and the birds do – then thou dost become absolutely joyful like the lilies and the birds. For this is the absolute joy, to adore the almighty power with which God the Almighty bears all thy care and sorrow as easily as nothing. And this also is the absolute joy, the next one, which in fact the Apostle subjoins, adoringly to dare to believe that ‘God careth for thee.’ (p. 353)


Sources:

Kierkegaard’s Christian Discourses & The Lilies of the Field & the Birds of the Air & The Discourses at the Communion on Fridays  May 14, 1849, translated by Walter Lowrie Oxford University Press 1940, 1961 Borrow it here p. 356-387

Bruce h. Kirmmse, The Lilies of the Field & the Birds of the Air by Soren Kierkegaard 1849 translation 2016 Princeton University Press

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