Learning to Listen
By Kathy Teel
But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? (Job 12:7-9)
I grew up in the suburbs, and I loved nature in the way that visitors love her, the same way I love Chicago and St. Louis. She was nice to visit on a Girl Scout camping trip, and I respected the idea of her, but I didn’t really know her. I was a distant acquaintance, not a friend.
When I first became a pastor, I was assigned to a different part of the state, and that was when culture shock hit. As a distant acquaintance of nature, I was suddenly given the spiritual care of some of nature’s closest friends. And it wasn’t just that they knew her better than I did, it was that they knew what to do with her, what made her happy and what made her sad, and how to show their love for her and dependence upon her every day.
My parishioners were farmers and hunters. The first time I looked out over a congregation with more than half the members gone, I thought something terrible must have happened, but I was informed (with a kind but patronizing shake of the head) that it was simply the first weekend of hunting season. Now that I work in the public school system, I can name more than one child who missed multiple days of school because they were hunting (I can name a few teachers, too, actually). Most of my students now either live or work on farms, ride in rodeos, raise livestock, compete in local and state fairs, and come from households with extensive gardens that they both eat from and donate to the community.
They live in, on, with, for, and because of nature. They are not only her friends, they are her children.
One teacher told a story of taking his young son hunting over the weekend. They sat in a deer blind in a tree, quietly so as not to frighten the animals, until the only sound was the wind in the treetops and the scurry of squirrels. No TV, no computer, no cell phone, no X-box, not even a radio separated them from creation. Eventually the little boy sat still for so long that he fell asleep, as surely and safely in his Father’s house as if he were dozing in a pew at church.
Folks around these parts know what Job knew. Ask the beasts, the birds of the air, the plants of the earth, and the fish of the sea. They’ll tell you what the hand of the Lord has done. Hunters, farmers, gardeners, and fishermen have simply learned to listen.
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Kathy Teel is a former pastor and now works with learning disabled teenagers. She is also a freelance writer and editor.