be like unto the duck

Every Monday now (Monday is my Sabbath) I’ve been going down to my spot at Merri Creek just to sit and listen to the water for a few hours. What I love most about this is the ducks. Most of them are Pacific Black ducks like the one down the bottom, but there’s also two beautiful Mallard ducks, a male and female. I think the male is the one with the deep green neck and head; the female is a mottled brown. Or maybe it’s the other way around, I don’t know. Every time I see them I am reminded of this piece of writing by Michael Leunig:

“I have drawn a simple picture of a person kneeling before a duck to symbolize and demonstrate my ideas and feelings about the nature of prayer. I ask the reader to bear with the absurdity of the image and to remember that the search for the sublime may sometimes have a ridiculous beginning. Here then is the story behind the picture.

A man kneels before a duck in a sincere attempt to talk with it. This is a very clear depiction of irrational behaviour and an important aspect of prayer. Let us put this aside for a moment and move on to the particulars.

The act of kneeling in the picture symbolizes humility. The upright stance has been abandoned because of the human attitudes and qualities it represents: power and ego. The kneeling man knows, as everybody does, that a proud and upright man does not and cannot talk with a duck. So the upright stance is rejected. The man kneels. He humbles himself. He comes closer to the duck. He becomes more like the duck. He does these things because it improves his chances of communicating with it.

The duck in the picture symbolizes one thing and many things; nature, instinct, feeling, beauty, innocence, the primal, the non-rational and the mysterious unsayable; qualities we can easily attribute to a duck and qualities which, coincidentally and remarkably, we can easily attribute to the inner life of the kneeling man, to his spirit or his soul. The duck then, in this picture, can be seen as a symbol of the human spirit, and in wanting connection with his spirit it is a symbolic picture of a man searching for his soul…

A person kneels before a duck and speaks to it with sincerity. The person is praying.”

From the introduction to A Common Prayer: A Cartoonist Talks to God by Michael Leunig.

It’s very calming to sit and watch ducks. They have nothing better to do all day but forage for food and paddle in the water. Reminds me of Jesus saying “Why do you worry about your life, what you will eat and drink, or about your body, what you will wear? Look at the birds of the air – they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

Of course, every now and then a person will come with their dogs and bluster down to the creek so their dogs can get wet before blustering off again. This scares the ducks away. I often feel irritated when that happens.

I try not to worry though. They have as much right to be there as the ducks or I. Still, they miss a lot by not sitting.

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