Thursday, August 8, 2013


Three weeks ago my wife Kristi and I took a hike around Jordan Pond. It's a beautiful freshwater lake in Acadia National Park, flanked with pines and mountain ridges along the coast of Maine. Two full hours of nearly four miles negotiating trails and boulders- that's some pond.

As we walked we agreed our chances of seeing wildlife would increase if we were silent. A dense white fog had descended on the lake, adding to the eerie beauty. Silence seemed right. Reverent even. So we moved along the water's edge in silence.

Only minutes later the silence was broken by a sudden explosion. Less than a yard from my feet there erupted movement and screeching and color. As it was coming from the water's edge, my mind immediately classified it as a duck. But my mouth disagreed. 

"PILEATED!" I was suddenly whisper-yelling. "That's a Pileated Woodpecker!" 

It flew in an arc and landed on the side of a nearby tree, its large monochromatic body instantly secured to the bark, its head red enough to shame Julianne Moore into a hat. Kristi was obviously impressed with the bird, but I now suspect she may have also been struggling to respect me as I squealed. 

"Oh my gosh honey. I've never been this close!" I continued, eyes bulging.

The bird flew further up into the tree out of view. We moved closer, camera on. And that's when we heard the most terrible sound one can hear in a time like this. Other humans.

Out of the sacred, foggy trail ahead came a couple, talking about someone named Patty and product initiatives and percentages over last quarter and laughing about it all. They weren't as evil as I make them sound, but I did momentarily pray them out of existence. On impulse, as they came fully into view, I put my finger to my lips to hush them. How strange that must have been for them, a grown man and woman, hushed like children by a sylvan stranger. But it worked. They froze, staring at us while I gestured up into the tree over their heads. I whispered to them with the intensity of one informing another his foot was on a land mine. 

"Sorry to be the noise police, but there's a Pileated Woodpecker over your head." He looked at me with confusion. His hand gripped his wallet. I edited myself. "It's a big bird. Woody Woodpecker without the laugh."

"Oh," said the woman on his behalf, now squinting into the branches. The man ducked his head as though we were under a helicopter. The woodpecker called out, the sound echoing into the green and white. And there we were, four people. Silent. Anticipating. 

We stood this way for a full minute, until it was clear Woody had gone. With nods we finally acknowledged to each other the moment was over. Each of us walked away in solemn whispers.

I hope I never meet you on a wooded trail. But I do hope, as was reinforced for me on my July sabbatical, you understand the reverence of silence. Not just in the outdoors, but in every waking, noisy hour. All of reality is incased in silence. All of reality is brimming with the sacred, the profound, the beautiful. I confess I don't recognize but a sliver of it. I'm typically most guilty of perpetuating the distraction of noise. You and I will come to life to the degree our lives are lived in more awareness of the great holy silence inviting us in.

May our God of few words inspire you today in the quieting of your mouth and mind. May you be newly entertained by the spaces between. May you experience what can only be found in silence.


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