It is hard to be quiet. In an age where we are bombarded with distractions at every turn, it is surprisingly difficult to find silence and solitude. I have found silence is not isolation, but rather an opportunity to listen to the natural world. Urban environments, after all, can be more isolating than the most remote Adirondack backwoods. We can spend all our time catching up with the latest iPhone apps or most economical Black Friday purchases, forgetting how important it is to hear nature speaking, to reflect on life, and to take stock.
After completing my first year of college in New York City, I was offered the opportunity to work at an Adirondack retreat center. It was tough to leave the streets and people I had begun to love. It was harder still to be alone in the woods, with only the noise of birds, animals, and streams. I was used to a constant, almost comforting, chaos. A soundtrack of urban life, complete with phones buzzing, iPods droning, subways rumbling, people talking, and above it all taxi horns. Once all that was abruptly cut away, I met silence.
I used to fear silence – I would play music, talk to people, or look for other distractions when things got quiet. It was as if I couldn’t stand the stillness. But after spending hours alone in the woods, I have come to understand that solitude is a gift. It is a chance for me to pause, to count my blessings, and block out the petty worries of the day. In short, it’s a chance to live unconstrained by the complexities of modern life.
In the city, life was in the streams of people, each with their unique achievements, aspirations, and stories. But in the Adirondacks, where the nearest grocery store is a twenty minute drive, the Creator is manifest in other ways. He is seen in the way hoar frost builds itself in intricate crystals at the edge of the stream, and how the ruffed grouse thunders out of the thicket when I flush it out, or how the sky and the lake engage in a tug of war for my attention as the loons plaintively announce the boat’s arrival. Instead of waiting for a bus or subway with rigid concrete under foot, I tread on centuries of pine needles and on a thick bed of moss for my daily commute. Up here there are no fireworks, no cinemas, and no concerts. The daily entertainment is the sun rising above the lake, casting long shadows from the majestic pines as it turns the gray mist into a cloud of color, thrusting the beavers and wood ducks out onto their stage.
So I’m no longer afraid of the silence as the snow falls, muffling even the blue jays. Instead I am reminded of the following passage from J. S. Simon:
The man whispered “God, speak to me,” and a meadowlark sang. But the man did not listen. So the man yelled, “God speak to me,” and the thunder rolled across the sky. But the man did not listen. The man looked around and said, “God, let me see you.” And a star shone brightly. But the man did not notice. So the man cried out in despair, “Touch me God, and let me know you are here!” Whereupon God reached down and touched the man. But the man brushed the butterfly away and walked on.
Silence allows each of us the opportunity to listen. We may not hear God as we wish to hear him, and what he says may not be what we want to hear, but if we are silent, maybe we will hear him speak to us.