On a recent vacation, I visited the Everglades. I confess that South Florida was not on my bucket list, and the Everglades hadn’t crossed my mind as a place to visit. But we needed to be in Tampa to meet up with other family later, so we went a week early to explore.
I fell in love!
Everglades National Park and the surrounding area was hauntingly beautiful and taught me some valuable lessons, one of which is about silence.
We pulled off the road through the park into a little parking lot and looked around. Yes, it was a pretty little lake, but there wasn’t really anything there. I got out of the car (maybe I was wrong and there was something interesting around the edge of the lake that I couldn’t see from the car) and walked over to the edge of the lake. Quiet and calm, it was as if I was looking at a still life painting. Pretty, but now I’d seen it.
I don’t dwell on paintings in museums; I pretty much stay on the move. I was ready to get back in the car. Nothing going on here, I’d seen what there was to see. And then it happened. A slight ripple on the surface of the lake drew my eye, and so I waited. Then, soon, a fish jumped, then another and another. I heard the little splashes and waited for more.
Soon I heard a bird call. A spoonbill (about which I had just learned the day before; I’m not a birder) popped out of the trees and swooped over the little lake. More calling. More birds, spoonbills and others. The more I listened, the more I heard. The more I watched, the more I saw. This wasn’t a still life; This was real life. Subtle movements of small critters, not bears or elk crashing through the woods. Ripples in water, rustling in trees, faintly audible movement of air and feathers.
My traveling partners were ready to move on. But I wanted to stay, rapt with wonder. Perhaps I was learning something.
In I Kings 19, we hear of the “still, small voice of God” (King James Version). In Hebrew, it says “sound of soft stillness.” After the earthquake came this soft stillness, in which God’s will became known. Not through the flashy parading of righteousness or love of vengeance, but stillness.
How often do I sit still, waiting for ripples on the surface, or the whisper of wings in the air? How much of my prayer time is talking, versus listening? How often am I looking for grand gestures, rather than soft stillness reminding me of God’s presence and action? How often, after a quick glance, do I determine that nothing is going on here; I’ve seen what there is to see. I’ve learned what there is to learn, and so I move on.
I wonder how often it is that we move through our lives, with our own agendas, thinking that we’ll notice the big movements of God, or waiting for God to act in an earthquake, rather than sitting, listening for the soft stillness, watching for the ripple on the still surface of the lake.
The Rev. Joanne Sizoo is pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.