Stillness in Nature Has Its Rewards (Rev. Carmen Retzlaff)
This month's theme is "Animal Encounters."
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
When I read the words of the beginning of the book of Psalms, the prayer book of the Jewish and Christian people, I think about the link between meditation and trees. Happy are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night: they are like trees.
Stillness in nature has rewards. Like trees, when we root down into a place, we are connected with all of it and all of the earth. We draw life from the soil, and soak it up from the sun and the rain. Like trees planted by streams. And often, nature yields fruit in those times, and we prosper - we are wealthy in beauty, and in joy.
When we are still in nature, like a tree, we do not enter into the silence of nature, but our silence: we take our noises out. We can hear the wind and weather, the sounds of birds and animals, and perhaps even the deep songs of the earth itself.
One February morning I volunteered to help with a bird count, a feeder watch at Westcave Preserve (https://westcave.org), a local oasis with a beautiful spring-fed stream and natural grotto. I was up at the top, on the upland prairie part of the preserve. It was a pleasant morning and I had a partner in counting for the first part of my shift. We spoke in whispers, and had a pleasant conversation as cardinals, sparrows and finches flitted from tree to feeder to tree. After he left, I sat still and watched longer. And listened. And in a little while, the noise of the birds quieted, and they left the feeders.
I saw a red fox standing still at the edge of the clearing. She stood very still and listened. I sat very still, not daring to move, watching. In the morning sun, her coat glowed orange, with beautiful gray and white markings. She came closer and ate from the feed under the feeders. I sat and watched, for what seemed like a long time, until she walked away. I felt gifted and blessed, and filled with the sense that I was loved.
I felt like part of the natural world, connected to all of the creatures and the patterns of their lives. I felt rooted into my bench seat, like a tree. I felt loved by God, and connected to God, and watered by the living water that quenches all thirst, even that of the great cypress trees that grow along the stream at the bottom of the preserve.
This encounter and this Psalm also remind me of a children’s book - a resource for talking about stillness in nature: Play With Me by Marie Hall Ets, published in 1955, and a Caldecott Honor book. It tells the story of a child in a meadow, trying to play with the creatures that live there. Finally, she sits still by the pond. "And as I sat there, without making a sound, Grasshopper came back and sat down beside me. Then Frog came back and sat down in the grass. And slowpoke turtle crawled back to his log. And Chipmunk came, and watched me, and chattered. Bluejay came back to his bough overhead. And Rabbit came back and hopped around me, and Snake came out of his hole.” - from Play With Me by Marie Hall Ets.