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MY YELLOW LAB, BUDDY, and I were on our early morning walk the other day in witness to the spring sunrise that was breaking over the horizon when we spotted the sleek gray form of a fox heading south down the tarmac road in front of us.
Its eyes turned back, glaring.
The fox was checking to see whether its symptomatic paranoia and depression were sufficient to warrant the fox doctor’s diagnosis of a clinical disorder.
If I were the fox instead of the therapist, I would have prayed that the man and his dog keep the Prozac to themselves. Heaven forbid that pharmaceuticals find their way into the drinking water. For the last thing a fox needs is to be drugged into a state of euphoria as antidote to its lingering anxiety about the wiles of the human predator that repeatedly guns down the fox no matter where it attempts to hide.
Its’s bad enough that the fox’s collective unconscious is no longer able to remember a primordial age that was decidedly pre-anthropoidal. It will be even worse when the fox’s best defense against extinction, its capacity to produce a birth rate higher than its death rate, no longer works in its favor. To be sure, utter disaster will prevail when the residual effect of “the morning after pill” in the drinking water puts an end to the fox’s survival. No wonder the poor old fellow instinctively turns its head over its shoulder to see what’s stalking it from behind. Yesterday it was the foxhound, today it’s the polluted creeks and rivers.
Likewise, within the greater scheme of nature’s changing state of tranquility, the rumble of the logging truck comes thudding and blundering around the bend in the road where I live, destined for chopping up and spitting out what’s left of a pulp and paper economy in which the fast-growing pine supplants the slow-growing oak and maple.
The driver of the Big Mack, its friction decibels ascending in loud crescendo, careens his way down the road the fox has taken in quest of shrub and underbrush to conceal its bewilderment.
Subsequent to the primeval Fall, the road from Eden was first a fox alley, then the Natives’ footpath, then a horse-and-buggy mud track, then a chuckhole-and-gravel road for the Model-T Ford, and then, come lately, a drag strip for the after-school racings of Generation Y in its red sports cars going nowhere faster than it goes everywhere by the Internet, thanks to the bighearted fossil fuel industry that supplies the gas and electricity.
Yes, I thank God for every vestige of quiet that prevails here within this oasis of “New Concord.”
At the moment there is nothing stirring other than the gentle breeze fanning the petals of the dogwood and the rustling leaf of the magnolia. Neither a cow moans in the distance nor a cloud billows over the mountain. There is deep silence in paradise for at least ten minutes.
Or, I should say, there was deep silence . . . for the carillon inside the white clapboard tower beneath the church steeple is abruptly blasting forth a song from the hymnal. Its bells are ripping through the stillness like the roar of a rocket headed for the hush of the moon. And dog Buddy, his snout to the sky, is howling for all he’s worth in tune with the mighty Glory.
“Nearer, my God, to Thee, Nearer to Thee! Though like the wanderer, The sun gone down, Darkness be over me, My rest a stone: Yet in my dreams I’d be Nearer, my God, to Thee,” wrote Sarah Adams in 1841, six years after this faithful congregation was founded.
“Nearer, my God, to Thee,” did I say?
We pray Thee, yes. And, if so, then like the fox and the bluebird, who for the most part maintain their silence through all that is spinning around them, we draw our silence before God in the midst of the tumult by standing apart from it. For this is how God draws near to us, first apart and then close at hand.
Given that we have but fleeting acquaintance with the primordial gift of tranquility, wherever we are on this rambling wilderness trail in our return to Eden, when we pause long enough to listen—listen deeply—we detect below the surface noise a holy silence that is solace for the soul.
The secret is in the vigil of watching and listening—repeat—watching and listening to what flutters above it and shuffles below it at the very heart of nature—which is to say, to what is rousing from the depths of every living creature whom God knows by name and calls by name. Even the fox on the run that falls to the hunter, and the bluebird on the fly that fails to return to the nest, and the generations of the human species who fling their anxieties like empty beer cans and broken wine bottles into the far ditch as though there were no tomorrow over which to fret.
We know that we, too, will observe our silence in due time, when the Spirit is right, when at last the eye is able to see and the ear able to hear.
—O, Holy Silence.
Excerpted from Foster’s Pie Pan: Stories of Grace Abounding in a Fallen World
Copyright © 2023 Charles Davidson, All Rights Reserved
Charles Davidson, retired Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, psychotherapist, and professor of pastoral theology, care, and counseling, is the author of Foster’s Pie Pan: Stories of Grace Abounding in a Fallen World (Parson’s Porch Books, 2023).