The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air

1849 book by Søren Kierkegaard

The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air (1849) is a book of Godly discourses written by Søren Kierkegaard.


  • Father in heaven! What one in society with men, especially there in the human swarm, with so much difficulty learns to know, and what, in case one has elsewhere learned to know it, is so easily forgotten in society with men, namely, what it is to be man, and what in a godly understanding of it is the requirement for being man-oh, that we might learn this, or, if it is forgotten, that we again might learn it from the lilies and the birds; that we might learn it, if not all at once and all in all, yet at least something of it, and little by little; that at this time we might from the lilies and the birds learn silence, obedience, joy! P. 315

‘Behold The Birds Of The Air; Consider The Lilies Of The Field’Edit

  • the poet talks thus: ‘Oh, would I were a bird, or would I were like a bird, like a free bird which gratifies its Wanderlust by flying far, far away over the sea and land, so near to heaven, unto distant climes – ah poor me, who feel only too much bound to the spot, bound and nailed there , where I am the mark of daily cares and sufferings and adversities, compelled to dwell there, and for the whole duration of my life! Oh, would I were a bird, or would I were like a bird, which rises into the air lighter than the air itself, oh, would I were like the airy bird which when it lacks a footing can build its nest upon the surface of the sea – while I, alas, with every slightest movement, even when I merely turn upon my bed, feel how gravity weighs me down! P. 319
  • The surprising happened to him. In proportion as he became more and more earnest in prayer, he had less and less to say, and in the end he became quite silent. He became silent – indeed, what is if possible still more expressly the opposite of speaking, he became a hearer. He had supposed that to pray is to speak; he learnt that to pray is not merely to be silent but to hear. And so it is; to pray is not to hear oneself speak, but it is to be silent, and to remain silent, to wait, until the man who prays hears God. (P. 323)
  • When suffering is neither more nor less, that is when it is merely that definite thing which it is, then, even though it were the greatest suffering, it is the least that it can be. But when it becomes indefinite however great the suffering really is, this indefiniteness increases the suffering endlessly. And this indefiniteness emerges precisely with man’s ambiguous advantage of being able to talk. On the other hand, the definiteness of suffering, the experience that it is neither more nor less than it is, is attained only by being able to keep silent; and this silence thou canst learn from the birds and the lilies. P. 327-328
  • The most important thing with the Gospel is not to scold and rebuke, what is most important with the Gospel is to get men to follow it. Hence it says, ‘Seek first’. Thereby it stops the mouth, so to speak, of all man’s objections, brings him to silence, and gets him actually to begin with this seeking; and then this seeking so satisfies man that it becomes true that he seeks solely and only God’s kingdom. P. 332

‘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’Edit

  • We men, or a man in the situation of the lily, would surely say, ‘It is hard, it is not to be endured , when one is a lily and beautiful as a lily, then to be allotted a place in such a situation, to bloom there in an environment which is as unfavorable as possible, as though expressly calculated to annihilate the impression of one’s beauty; no, that is not to be put up with, that is indeed a self-contradiction on the part of the Creator!’ So it is we men would likely think and talk, if we were in the situation of the lily, and thereupon we would wither with grief. But the lily thinks differently, it thinks thus: ‘I myself have not been able to determine the situation and the circumstances, and so it is not in the remotest way my affair; that I stand where I stand is God’s will.’ P. 339
  • And then think of the innumerable multitudes of men now living! We men speak of its being a work of patience to be a school-teacher for little children; and then think God who must be the school-teacher for this innumerable multitude! What patience! And then what makes the tax upon patience infinitely greater is that where God is school-teacher all the children suffer more or less from the delusion that they are big grown-up men, a delusion from which the lilies and birds are quite free – and surely just for this reason, that absolute obedience comes so easily to them. ‘If on top of everything else,’ as human school-teacher might say, ‘if on top of everything else the children got the notion that they were grown-up men, one must lose all patience and must despair; for that would be something no man could endure.’ No, surely no man could endure it, only the God of patience can. P. 342
  • What then does the Gospel do? The Gospel, which is the wisdom of child-training, does not enter into strife with man about thoughts and words, in order to prove to him that this is so; the Gospel knows full well that it is not thus the thing is accomplished, that it is not as though a man first understands that it is so as it is said to be, and thereupon resolves unconditionally to obey, but conversely, that by obeying unconditionally a man first comes to understand that it is so as the Gospel says.. P. 345-346

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.’Edit

  • What is joy? Or what is it to be joyful? It is to be present to oneself; but to be truly present to oneself is this thinking of ‘today’, that is, this thing of being today, of truly being today. And in the same degree that it is more true that thou art today, in the same degree that thou art quite present to thyself in being today, in that very same degree is the baleful tomorrow non-existent for thee. Joy is the present tense, with the whole emphasis upon the present. Therefore it is that God is blessed, who eternally says, Today, and therefore it is that the lilies and the birds are joy, because with silence and unconditional obedience they are entirely present to themselves in being today. P. 349-350
  • 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
  • Consider what applies to thee, if not as a man, at least as a Christian, that even the danger of death is for thee so unimportant that it is said, ‘Even now today art thou in Paradise,’ and thus the transition from time to eternity (the greatest possible transition) is so swift – and though it were to occur in the midst of universal destruction, it is yet so swift that thou even now today are in Paradise, for the fact that thou dost Christianly remain in God. For if thou dost remain in God, then whether thou dost live or die, and whether thou diest today or only after seventy years, or whether thou findest death at the bottom of the sea where it is deepest, or thou art scattered in the air – thou dost not find thyself outside of God, thou remainest, and so thou remainst present to thyself in God, and art therefore at the day of thy death even now in Paradise. P. 355


  • Kierkegaard’s Christian Discourses & The Lilies of the Field & the Birds of the Air & The Discourses at the Communion on Fridays translated by Walter Lowrie Oxford University Press 1940, 1961
  • 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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