From time to time over the years I have greatly enjoyed visiting Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve in southeastern Ohio. It is an ancient gorge, and was formed after the last ice age, and is a vestige of the boreal forests that once occupied much of this land. Back when I was still physically able, I would walk a portion of the 2-mile rim trail. Although I did walk the entirety of it a few times, there was a particular spot about one-third the way around on the right side where I would sit in the shade of a lone young tree, overlooking the gorge.
There I would sit for perhaps an hour, feeling the breeze blowing over me, hearing the sound of the wind in the trees, hearing the birds and crickets, and other sounds of the natural world. It was here that I realized this breeze I felt on my cheek was the breath of God. And that all mine eyes beheld was a manifestation of God, that God is an intrinsic part of the whole. And that I am no more or less significant that the tree under which I am sitting, or the crow and woodpecker I hear in the trees.
On one of my many trips there, I was caught in a brief but significant downpour. I found shelter under the lush branches of a young hemlock. After the brief downpour, I remained seated and listened to a cricket that had begun singing near me. It seemed to me that the cricket was singing in thanksgiving for the nourishing and refreshing rain. There were many dozens of birds of all different species singing in the trees. The entire forest had come alive with a symphony of God’s own creation!
Yet when I was on my solitary walks, I encountered so many pairs and small groups of people who were not only walking at a brisk pace, but were engaged in conversation with each other. In their haste and in their conversation, they were completely oblivious to the living world around them. They were imposing their world on God’s world. In their haste, they completely missed the beauty of the many wildflowers, or the deer standing in the forest not 100 feet away from them. They shooed away a butterfly that got in their way, instead of regarding its beauty, and that its presence was gift for them for which to be thankful.
Yesterday I took my mother to Conkle’s Hollow, to stroll along the wheelchair accessible gorge trail. As I was pushing her transport chair, we progressed mostly in silence, my footsteps through the fallen leaves on the path being, for the most part, the only sounds we made. We encountered numerous couples, all of whom were walking with some determination and who were also engaged on conversation; when the passed us by, they had the audacity to greet us! I did not reply, but simply nodded my head as a greeting. On one point there was a group of about 25-30 young people who appeared to be part of a study group, possibly religious. The entire group was engaged in all manner of animated conversation as they made their way quite noisily toward the trail entrance.
Such places are not just “pretty places.” They are places where we can sit in quietness, and listen to the still small voice of God speaking to us in the wind through the trees, in the call of the bird, in the gurgling of the stream, in the chirping of the crickets. These are the sounds of God. If we are still and quiet, we can hear the Voice, and be attentive to what it has to say to us.
Be still, and know that I am God.