The Silence that Speaks to Us

            I have a friend and mentor, Steve, who was a ranger in Everglades National Park in Florida.  In his spare time, he would drive up to a scenic overlook.  He loved to sit there and look over the beautiful scene of a saw grass prairie.  It looks like this.  One occasion, when he was there for a time, a park visitor drives his car up to the nearby parking lot.  The visitor grabs his camera from the car and quickly runs to the overlook.  When he gets there, the visitor felt disappointed in the lack of action and the flatness of the plain saw grass vista.  So he mumbles, “Nothing.”  Steve smiled at him.  He looked at the scene, stretched out his arms, and proclaimed, “Everything.”
            For the past 20 years, I work in our nation’s national parks.  During that time, I notice that many park visitors do not take enough time to appreciate and enjoy these spectacular areas.  According National Park Service surveys, the average visitor spends about four hours visiting at national park.  Of those visitors, eighty percent of their time is spent inside their car driving around the park.  Those folks spend the remaining time outside their car using the bathroom, getting food, and buying souvenirs.
            My focus today is to encourage you to spend more time in nature.  We need to do this for three reasons:  for inter peace to balance the turmoil in our world, for renewal from the stress and demands of our own lives, and because nature can actually give us guidance on how to live our lives.
            First, as we all know, the chaos in the world is very intense right now with war, recession, terrorism, gas prices, and other problems.  It is so important not to let these problems overwhelm us.  Anne Frank, the teenage girl who was a victim of the Nazi Holocaust almost seventy years ago, wrote in her famous diary on February 23, 1944.
“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God.  Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be…amidst the simple beauty of nature.
 In the year 2012, nature can still provide comfort for us when it seems like the world is aiming for us.
            Second, we need to spend quiet time in natural areas not just to escape from the outer problems of the world.  We also need to spend time in nature to refresh ourselves from the stress and obligations of our own lives.  Our own lives carry the demands of paying bills, work, family, school, and even preparing speeches for tonight.  Nature can give us a temporary peace and courage to face our problems.
“Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul alike.”
The beauty of nature can provide hope and inspiration for our stressful lives.
            My third point, not only can nature uplift us from the anxiety of the world and our own problems; nature can also teach us how to live and function in the world.  As you spend some quiet time in nature, you will hear your inner wisdom.  You may even be open to the beauty of the scenery speaking to you.  As John Denver sang over thirty years ago:
 “But the Colorado Rocky Mountain high,
   I have seen it rain and fire in the sky
   You can talk to God and listen to the
   casual reply
   Rocky Mountain high, Colorado…”
            I can hear what you are thinking right now.  Brian, I do not have time or money to travel to the Everglades, the Rocky Mountains, Yosemite or other wilderness areas.  However, the beauty is you do not need to leave St. Louis to enjoy nature.  A walk in nearby Power Valley State Park can be quality time in nature.  If you have woods behind your house, take advantage of them.  My favorite activity is go hiking in nearby Bee Tree County Park that overlooks the Mississippi River.  You do not need much time either.  Just ten minutes in a natural area will do a world of good for you.
           Now we have talked about how spending time in nature can provide inner peace, renewal and guidance for our lives.  Before I end my speech, I want to share a story how spending time in nature can also help us develop our sense of humor.  One day a man was walking in the woods when he thought he heard the voice of God.
The man said, “God, can I ask you a question?”
God said, “Sure, go ahead.”
The man said, “God what is a million years to you?”
God said, “Well, a million years is as a second to me.”
The man asks, “What is a million dollars to you?
God says, “To me, a million dollars is as a penny.”
So the man asks, “God can I have a penny?”
God says, “Sure, just a second.”
Spending time in nature can be the silence that speaks to us, even providing us with a sense of humor.  Unfortunately, my friend Steve passed away over four years ago from cancer.  All I have left of him is this picture, as well as his wisdom, humorous stories, and his love of nature.  Steve would want me to conclude my speech tonight saying,
“Spending time in nature even if it is a saw grass prairie, is not NOTHING, it is EVERYTHING.”