By William W. Graham
Although preaching is a strength of mine and I enjoy developing long-term relationships with members of my congregation, I now have no pulpit and no regular congregation.
After serving as a pastor of local congregations for thirteen years, I am now a camp director. I have responsibility for the spiritual leadership of a 400-acre church camp and its year-round program and operations. Recently a colleague assured me that there are other ways to share the gospel than from the pulpit. "Let the land preach," he said.
This past year I have become a leader of night hikes. I enjoy taking groups into the woods at night. When all the lights of civilization have faded and all eyes have adjusted to the darkness, I insist that we stop and take a sound inventory.
My instructions are that everyone must stand absolutely still for two or three minutes. No talking or laughing or giggling. Just listen! I ask the participants to silently record each new or distinct sound by raising a finger. We share the sounds we've heard after the silence.
I have kept my own inventory of sounds over the past year. It's amazing what I have heard in those brief silences:
Some may argue that nature is silent without humans to give it voice, but experience teaches me otherwise. The woods are rarely quiet. Nature speaks up and speaks back when I listen.
The scriptures, especially the poetry of the Psalms and Second Isaiah, acknowledge that nature has a voice, not the familiar voice that stands behind human words, but nonetheless an audible voice that declares its maker's praise. The sea roars. The fields exult. The trees clap their hands. The firmament declares the Lord's handiwork. They all shout and sing together, making a joyful noise to the Lord.
Today ecologists and theologians urge us to listen to the testimony of nature. We ignore and drown out creation's voice at our own peril. It's time to stop and listen.
Nature enjoys a relationship with its creator that includes two-way conversation. And nature reveals enough about its maker to encourage humanity's search for the divine. Creation has much to tell us, but we must stop and listen.
With all our reach we cannot embrace the rough bark
of this giant oak whose branches gnarl four hundred years
of rain and sunlight to the sky.
In the topmost tangling twig God revels
on this throne of grand design.
Should we search heaven for a miracle?
Ann Doro is a mother and grandmother who took early retirement from teaching to follow her first love, writing.
Make a list of at least five aspects of your daily life that separate you from the natural world (e.g., driving a car short distances rather than walking).
Make a second list of ways that you can begin to overcome this separation.
What religious beliefs shape the way you think about and interact with the environment?
Where is there discontinuity between what you believe and how you live?
William W. Graham is an ordained minister who directs a camp and conference center. He is married and the father of three children.
From “Nature’s Testimony” by William Graham in Alive Now. Published in Alive Now, July/August, Vol. 30, No. 4. Copyright © 2000 by The Upper Room.
Photography by Ryan Hutton / Unsplash