With Ears to Hear

Living in a crowded city like Nashville (though any large city seems crowded to me, a kid who grew up in a small Alabama town with no stop lights), I find myself seeking out quiet places. It’s an interesting thing to want a deeply natural quiet as a human being. We’re an incredibly social species, and yet it’s tough to acclimate to the noise we create. It is for me, anyway. Sometimes I think it’s a matter of conditioning, that growing up where the noise surrounding you is wholly other, something that both hints at where you could belong but reminds you of how separate you actually are, makes it tougher. Growing up, I would lie in the grass behind the house and look up at the Alabama pines. I would close my eyes and listen. I felt like part of it all, like I belonged. Now, I’m terribly aware that I’m not aligned to the rhythm of the cicada’s hum, the whippoorwill’s chant, or the rustle of the breeze through the leaves. When I hear them now, just as I did when I was a kid, I love the feeling of wholeness they bring. I feel connected to something so large and so lovely that I can’t figure out what to say or think. Probably because I’m not supposed to say or think anything. Quietude exists for a reason.

Maya Angelou died last week, and her last tweet got me thinking. “Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God,” it reads. She’s onto something important there, as she usually was. One of the first sermons I remember having an influence on me as a young person was on seeking God through silence. I think it struck me hard because it’s something I already knew to be true. There is something divinely wonderful in escaping ourselves. Though maybe “escaping” isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s a matter of retreating deeper into ourselves, running through familiar fields full of what we know and can clearly see into sun-dappled forests where shadows and the unknown wait and watch. This could be what I’m looking for when I pause on my hikes in a local park, crane my ear, and listen to see if I’ve gone far enough on the trail to leave behind the sounds of the road, of other people, of my own busy life.

A few weekends ago, I decided to start my Sunday with a hike. I woke up early, prepped the dog, and made it to the park early enough to avoid any crowds. I took the long trail, narrow and surrounded by brush and branches. When I reached the midway point, the path opened up to a wider road that curves through the heart of the park. All around me were towering trees bathed in soft morning light. A cool breeze carried the calls of finches and the chittering of squirrels. It’s an area I come across every time I take that route, but it was transformed in that moment, in my own embrace of its beauty and its mystery and its sounds. My mind was clear and my ears were open. After I continued on, the only thought I had was, “Somehow, I got tricked into a cathedral on a Sunday.” Maybe that’s what I’m seeking always: to find the quiet places that take me out of myself and further into myself, the beautiful natural spaces where I hope God lives and speaks.