GREW UP IN A GOOD HOME. MY PARENTS WERE TRADITIONAL ADVENTISTS in belief and lifestyle. But our home was different from most. Cherokee blood ran in our veins. We lived quietly in the woods. We did not have a television. We reveled in simplicity and silence.
We loved and cared for every living thing. Rather than kill bees and spiders that found their way into our house, we took them outside. My mother rescued earthworms from the path and carefully set them in a safe place. My father said that God made human beings friends and protectors of the other creatures.
The wilderness was a cathedral. My father would raise his eyes to the hazy Appalachian ridges and sigh. “The mountains heal my spirit. God hovers over them,” he would say. My mother would pause in deep ranks of
hemlock and look upward with a light in her eye. God is everywhere, she believed; walk softly and reverently over the earth was the code she lived by.
Our church building was holy, like the wilderness. My mother was the organist. On warm summer evenings of fireflies and whip-poor-wills, she would take me to the church to practice. It was empty, silent. When we entered, we stopped talking. We walked differently. Dusky red twilight filtered down from the stained-glass windows. The music of Bach permeated the air and walls like incense.
We lived and moved and had our being in the presence of God. The dark green of pines against rich, blue sky; the lives of creatures both wild and tame; the inspired music of devotional masters; the hush of the sanctuary—the immanence of the Holy infused our lives. My father said of the longing for wilderness and holiness, “It is the Native American in us.” Perhaps so, but I realize now that this is not the whole explanation. There have always been many like us, from every time, tradition, and culture. I meet them everywhere I go.
I am in my 30s now. I need a lot of space and silence. I step around ants and set earthworms off the sidewalk. I ache for wilderness and sanctuary—for holy space as well as holy time. Once a year I walk mountain trails alone, high in the Rockies, sun pouring on my face, talking happily to Jesus.
But wilderness is disappearing everywhere under the violence of bulldozers, and God’s dear creatures are beset at every hand. Nearly everywhere I go the land is being ripped apart for housing developments and strip malls.
I go to church on Sabbath and cannot pray. Almost everyone is talking, as if they were in a fast-food restaurant. The worship team comes out on the stage; the big screens come to life and zoom in on the speaker. The time of worship is consumed by unnecessary words. Afterward, when I remain in silence and bow my head to pray, someone asks if I am feeling OK.
I flee home in tears and seek out quiet, reverent worship services. I must worship; I must have a place to worship the Holy God.
I do not expect everyone to be like me or to worship as I do. But there are many who “walk softly over the earth.” Where can we go to be still in a world of incessant noise, entertainment, and cell phones? How can our souls find peace in a grotesquely wasteful land of SUVs and wall-sized TVs? Where can we walk quietly with Jesus and kneel in awe before the burning bush?
I love Jesus passionately. I am His child, and He understands my pain. My spirit cries out for time and space to be with Him in silence and reverence. I desperately need wilderness, and I desperately need the holy hush of community worship.
*Marie Walkingstick is a pseudonym.