Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Part 1

The novella with this title, written by Richard Bach, exploded on the scene in 1970, and it was an instant phenomenon.  Selling over 1 million copies within 2 years, Jonathan Livingston Seagull remained on the New York Times best seller list where it remained for 38 weeks straight.  The story is about a restless seagull who is bored with the day-to-day existence that is the fate of all seagulls – scrapping for food on the shores and in the wake of the fishing boats.  To pass the time, Jonathan began a relentless pursuit of perfection in flight which lifted him to heights he’d never known or anticipated.

johnathan_livingston_seagullPerhaps the positive “you have purpose beyond simple mundane existence” message of the book hit the scenes at the perfect time when the country was reeling from the cultural traumas and civil unrest induced by the Viet Nam war and the political turmoil of the late 60’s.  It grabbed me simply because it was about a young seagull who loved to fly.  Even though I found Bach’s philosophical/religious themes in the book (higher planes of existence, reincarnation) to be out of alignment with my recently renewed Christianity, I was able to “eat the fish and spit out the bones,” to use a uniquely appropriate metaphor my pastor frequently invokes.  I was so enamored with Jonathan that I used quotes from Seagull when writing the script for our National Honor Society induction ceremony for which I was responsible in our senior year of high school.

The movie adaptation, directed by Hall Bartlett, was released in 1973.  It featured an orchestral soundtrack written and performed by Neil Diamond.  If I liked the book, I loved the movie soundtrack.  My brother purchased the LP of the soundtrack, and I frequently would listen to it with headphones in a darkened room and imagine myself with Jonathan as he soared above the clouds and sliced the air in straight down dives at 214 miles per hour.  Years later I would purchase the CD for myself, but I never actually saw the movie until I bought the VHS tape on eBay 25 years after it was released.

Because I did not like the author’s subtle themes that contained shades of Eastern mysticism, I rewrote my own story (in my head) based on the words of the soundtrack.  It’s a story of simplicity, striving for a meaningful and fulfilling purpose, having occasional “crashes,” and redemption aided by wise mentors.  This cycle has repeated itself numerous times in my life, and each time I have found comfort in listening to Diamond’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull in quiet moments and lonely, lovely drives.

The title track, “Be,” is perhaps my perpetually favorite song of all time.  You can watch a music video of it here.  These are the words:

Be

Lost
On a painted sky
Where the clouds are hung
For the poet’s eye
You may find him
If you may find him
There
On a distant shore
By the wings of dreams
Through an open door
You may know him
If you may

Be
As a page that aches for a
Word which speaks on a theme that is timeless
While the Sun God will make for your day
Sing
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your way

And we dance
To a whispered voice
Overheard by the soul
Undertook by the heart
And you may know it
If you may know it

While the sand
Would become the stone
Which begat the spark
Turned to living bone
Holy, holy
Sanctus, sanctus

Be
As a page that aches for a word
Which speaks on a theme that is timeless
While the Sun God will make for your day
Sing
As a song in search of a voice that is silent
And the one God will make for your way

– Neil Diamond

Maybe it’s a bit tacky or spooky, but the only request I’ve made to Donna about my funeral (if I go before she does, which seems likely given the events of the past decade!) is that, somehow, the soundtrack from Seagull is used in my funeral.  At least it should be playing in the background during the viewing.

Are you like me…you are always thinking about your ultimate purpose for being here, the future, and what will come next in your life?  My view of this has shifted a bit in recent years.  Donna and I used to belong to a church that, for all of the wonderful people and things we learned and experienced there, was always talking in terms of the future.  We were always preparing, spiritually, for something that was coming.  It seemed as though we looked at life as if the real battle or ministry was out on the horizon, and everything we were experiencing now was practice for what was coming then.  Well, I’ve come to realize that every day brings opportunities for ministry, every day we can represent our Lord to those around us, and that the “battle” is now.  Lot’s of things – my daily devotions, conversations with friends and family, situations and relationships at work, various forms of media – they encourage me in my daily walk.  And the story of Jonathan has been a small part.

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3 Responses to Jonathan Livingston Seagull – Part 1

  1. Harmon says:

    Dear Mark,

    Wow, what can I say? The words you wrote are beautiful, expressed in a way that comes from someone who ‘sees’ more than others.

    Teri and I thank God for you and Donna, and we rejoice you were able to land safely (isn’t a landing a controlled crash?) and get the life-saving medical treatment needed. Do you remember the time you took me flying in the tail-dragger? You and Donna are in our prayers.

    Blessings from Africa,

    Harmon

  2. Mary Peterson says:

    Your thoughts bring to mind a statement I heard in church this past week.
    “This is our mortality, not our home” and that “men are that they might have joy”.
    I think that while this is a time of preparation for that “home” it is also a time of joy in the present.
    Thanks always for your insightfulness, Mark 🙂 (I know -it’s not a word but ti fits)

  3. Mark,
    One of your parents posted your blog to FB…and in my morning perusal of “all things work” (which does, in fact, include FB)…I happened upon it. I’ve met you once live…had lunch at NTT with you and others. — I had a sneaking suspicion about your faith then, (because the company is riddled with us and we don’t necessarily camouflage well) and after reading several entries from your blog I am blessed to say “I know who he is!”— Thank you for putting your faith out there; for sharing your experiences in the air, with Christ, with pain, to touch so many. — I stop at this entry to respond because of that soundtrack…which I haven’t listened to in decades…but which I listened to over and over and over again in high school and which spoke to me so strongly.— Your “eat the fish, spit out the bones” attitude about it was essentially mine. I rewrote it in my head too. —Thanks for bringing me back to somethings I had forgotten. More than just music…. Particularly as I send my eldest out into the world “beyond high school” this spring…and I witness that “first solo flight.”
    God Bless…and please keep writing and sharing…and keep taking the Plavix, will you?
    Lori B
    Massachusetts

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