|The Peace of Wild Things
Rev. Tim Temerson & Reflection by Frances Pake
June 12, 2011
I want to begin by thanking Frances Pake for her beautiful reflection. Frances, your descriptions of some of your favorite places and experiences with nature, and the deeply spiritual feelings nature evokes in you are simply wonderful. I love the phrase you use to describe that spot on the bridge near Ft. Myers – “quietly awesome.” I think that phrase also describes Frances Pake and your wonderful reflection – quietly awesome!
Like Frances, I too have been blessed by the beauty and blessing of the natural world. Time and again I have been filled with joy and wonder by the colors of a brilliant sunrise or sunset, by the stillness of a lake or pond, and by the songs of birds welcoming a new day.
There is something about the natural world, about what the poet Wendell Berry calls “wild things,” that touches our hearts and stirs our souls. I know when I am in the midst of nature’s incomparable beauty, something that I can only describe as spiritual comes over me. My breathing slows, my muscles relax, and the chatter that seems to constantly race through my mind quiets down. I am able to see, to listen, and to be present in a way that I normally cannot. As I listen to a breeze blowing through the trees or watch waves rolling on to shore, I seem to lose myself and all of my worries and concerns. For a blessed moment, I come into the peace of wild things and rest, as Berry so beautifully puts it, “in the grace of the world.”
Now I know I’m not saying anything new or different from what I’m sure many of you have experienced in your own encounters with the natural world. The connection between nature and spirit, between the beauty and calm of wild places and our very human need to experience and to be part of them, that connection has long been recognized and celebrated by poets, by mystics, and by all who seek to understand that which is beyond words, beyond description, and even beyond understanding.
While Unitarian Universalism is certainly a religious tradition steeped in intellect and the use of reason, we UUs also look to the natural world as a source of truth and meaning. Our connections to Transcendentalism, and especially to people like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, have inspired us to look beyond the fruits of reason and intellect and to trust intuition and those experiences of deep connection to something greater – connections that Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau experienced most often in nature.
What is it about the natural world and about wild things that have such power over us? What is it about a birdsong, a sunset, or a mountain vista that enables us to experience that deep connection to something greater and to “rest in the grace of the world?”
Here again, I think the Transcendentalists have something to teach us. Emerson and Thoreau believed that we experience exhilaration and wonder in nature because it points us towards timeless truths about the universe and about ourselves. You see, in the midst of the despair, the frantic pace, the brokenness, and the alienation that so often fill our days, nature announces and celebrates a very different reality – a reality of immense beauty, of healing stillness, and of an abiding unity and harmony in the midst of great diversity. In a world in which so many live lives of what Thoreau so famously called “quiet desperation,” nature can be a beacon of truth and hope pointing us to a deeper, more meaningful reality and calling us to lead lives of beauty, of stillness, and of harmony with each other and the world.
And that’s why I find such power and wisdom in Wendell Berry’s poem. Like Berry, I have been healed by the peace of wild things. The sound of a bird singing at dawn or the sight of a clear blue lake nestled in a beautiful valley have washed away my despair and renewed my hope. Being in the presence of wild things has enabled me to find light in the midst of darkness and joy in the midst of sorrow. More than anything else, nature has taught me over and over again that life is ultimately beautiful, abundant, and blessed.
Friends, as spring turns to summer, I hope you find time to come into the peace of wild things. Listen as the birds sing and watch as the sun rises and sets. Lie down in the warm grass and feel the good earth beneath you. And wherever you are on your journey, take time to breathe, to be still, and to rest in the grace of the world.
Thank you for listening and blessed be.
Just sit back and relax for a moment and imagine a scene with me,
a scene that took place many years ago.
It is a quiet evening in early fall. You go for a walk
--by yourself--happily---for you are comfortable being by yourself.
You live in the city, but this is nearly 70 years ago--there are acres and acres of undeveloped land in the areas close to the street where you live.
You walk down an unpaved, dirt road, in an open area. As you walk in the quiet evening air, you turn off the road and climb up a familiar hill, following a narrow foot path.
You sit down for a few minutes, looking over the scene before you.
Off in one direction some distance away are factories
--for this is the east side of Akron and the Goodyear plants rim the horizon to the south and east.
In the other direction are rows of the neatly kept houses where the workers live. But in the expanse immediately before you is all open space.
And as you sit there, you have this wonderful feeling of oneness, of being at peace with the world. There is a momentary suspension of time. No sounds of the city reach you. All is well with the world.
That was a Saturday night. The next day, Sunday, I went to church as usual, to my mother’s church. I was 14 or 15, and duly attended church every week.
This day, however instead of the usual routine sermon, the minister gave an inspired one which he entitled, “Witnessing on a Saturday Night.” The minister had been deeply moved that previous night, which he had spent, giving comfort, at the bedside of a dying man. I remember how uplifting the sermon was, far different from his usual rather dull ones.
Now, almost 70 years later, the area I viewed from the hillside still exists, but not the scene. The open expanse of grassy meadows has been replaced by East High School. (pic at end)Houses line what was then the bare hillside where I sat so many years ago.
But that feeling that enveloped me as a 15 year old is still remembered. I wrote a poem about it, which I called Witnessing on a Saturday night. I found the poem several years ago when I was shuffling through some old papers. But I have since misplaced it . Oh well, it may still turn up again.
But the scene still remains in my mind’s eye.
One’s mind’s eye is a very important place. It can capture and remember scenes which may or may not ever have existed. But that scene, and that experience did exist.
Back then, as a teenager, I had few opportunities to be outside to enjoy nature.
However, as an adult, I began to satisfy this yearning to be outside. I discovered the nearby Akron parks and I went horseback riding in Michigan and around the local area.
In my late thirties, my husband, daughter, and I added camping and nature walks to our life.
But I was in my forties when my outdoor life outdoors really changed.
I became a Girl Scout leader. As a troop leader of 9 year olds, I was a disaster, truly, although the girls survived and had a good time. Then for several years I attended outdoor training sessions. I pitched tents in the rain and snow and learned to read topographical maps. I became familiar with the stars and trees and flowers and biting insects and poison ivy.
At forty, I went outdoors, and as I am fond of saying, after that I never wanted to go back inside again. Which is a little bit of an exaggeration, perhaps, but only a little bit.
Today I still find that feeling of awe and wonder, peace and harmony in the out-of-doors as I walk in the woods or watch a sunset.
Here I walk in our parks such as the Seiberling Natureal (possible pic) or Hampton Hills, (1 or more Pics)
In Florida I may just step outside my home to watch the sun set, (pic)then follow the full moon as it rises over my cabbage palm.(pic)
Sometimes I take my nature loving friends out to the causeway between Ft. Myers and Sanibel Island at sunset. After the sun disappears into the waters of the Gulf in the west, (pic) we turn to the east and walk along the beach for awhile. About half an hour later we can catch a glimpse of the full moon as it rises above the city of Ft. Myers.(2 pics)
I tell my friends in advance that they can look forward to a quietly awesome experience.
Or at sunset at Bonita Beach we may watch the sun slowly sink
into the Gulf, and as the last tip of the sun disappears, (1 pic or series)
the people break out in spontaneous applause, literally, in appreciation of another grand performance of Gaia.
But you don’t have to seek out special places to appreciate nature. You can drive along the streets as you did today to arrive here, and watch a changing display all year long. In February there are the stark, bare trees against a brilliant blue sky, then the blossoms of the dogwoods and redbuds as they leaf out in spring. The deep green leaves of summer are followed by our unique display of colorful autumn foliage.
Not everyone loves the out-of-doors as I do. Some folks love the city, with the hustle and busyness of its people and the many cultural activities it offers. But for those of us who have safe, comfortable shelter, and can choose when and where we go out of doors,
it can be a place of renewal, a place of peace, of contentment-- a feeling of oneness, of wholeness, of unfettered joy. It provides a spiritual experience unmatched by any other. And if we can go longer be there in body, we can remember, or imagine.