A Wing and a Prayer | BBC Radio 4 February 2016

Something Understood

John McCarthy explores the sacred and profane place of birds in our daily lives.
He considers the many spiritual meanings birds have for humans. From doves as biblical heralds of the Holy Spirit to ravens in the Qur’an, birds are at the iconic heart of almost all world religions. But how did they get there? Is it their ability to fly which grips us? Or the apparent purity and beauty of (many) of their songs and calls?

Along the way, John explores the parallels between listening to Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending, hearing a dawn chorus in Kielder Forest and seeking a personal pathway to the divine. He also recalls a bird-inspired moment of hope during his time in captivity in Lebanon – a memory triggered by the music of the singer Fairouz.

John’s conversation with keen birdwatcher and author Stephen Moss reveals that the international bird of peace is not nearly as pacifist as it seems, and uncovers the true meanings of birdsong, which prove to be both paradoxical and far more profane than sacred.

The programme includes poetry from John Clare, prose from Gerald Durrell, and music from Canteloube, Respighi and Chris Watson.

The readers are Madeleine Bowyer and Peter Marinker.
Producer: Matt Taylor

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4