Finding Still Water
By Leah Rampy
Leah Rampy leads pilgrimages and online courses for the Shalem Institute and serves on the faculty of Transforming Community: Leading Contemplative Prayer Groups and Retreats. She also leads retreats and groups focusing on spirituality in nature.
He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul. -Psalm 23:2-3
Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night. Worry about the state of our world, the desire to untangle a difficult knot on behalf of a loved one, or anxiety about a mistake I’ve made pricks its way into my consciousness. I tell myself to let it go, but my mind is stuck in replay mode.
No wonder that Wendell Berry’s beautiful poem, “The Peace of Wild Things,” is one of my favorites. The poem speaks of personal struggle with despair and fear that is calmed by coming into the “peace of wild things” and into the presence of “still water.” These words evoke beautiful and calming images and an invitation to peace for which, I suspect, we all yearn. Wouldn’t we love to give up our despair and fear for this one night?
Yet interior peace can be difficult to find in our busy lives. Stress and anxiety show up all around us—and within us. Occupational stress has been defined as a “global epidemic” by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. Anxiety has been called by some experts “the disease of the 21st century.” Where are those healing waters? What will restore my soul?
It seems that in the last few generations we have distanced ourselves from nature. One study claims that our children spend less time outdoors than chickens and prisoners! Could it be that as we relegate ourselves to more time indoors we are distancing ourselves from an important source of healing waters?
Perhaps we are invited to take literally the message to walk by the still waters, to pause for a sunrise, to feel the breeze, to taste the salt air. Doesn’t it make sense that the Creator longs for us to relish the beauty, grandeur, and wisdom of Creation? Might we find in nature a gift that can bring us peace and restore our souls?
Our Celtic sisters and brothers believed that through the Book of Creation, we could “read” important messages from the Creator. If we were to spend more time in Creation, what might we learn from this most ancient scripture?
Perhaps we have forgotten that we are a part of Creation, that we are inextricably linked, woven together in a web of being. In fact, we are like the coastal redwoods that range from Oregon to central California. Some of these magnificent trees live over 2,000 years and can tower 350 feet above the ground. With fierce winds and strong storms, the coast can be a difficult place for trees! Yet these trees persist because they have shallow root systems that extend over 100 feet from the base and intertwine with the roots of other redwoods. This interconnection increases their stability during strong winds and floods. Any change in the well-being of one tree impacts the others. And so for us. The roots of our well-being are intertwined with other living creatures, and we are all sustained by the same water, soil and sun.
What are we missing when we spend little or no time in awareness of our connections? When all life is spent largely indoors, it seems less likely that we will “stumble upon our true roots in the intertwining biology of this exquisite planet” as John Seed, Australian environmentalist writes.
Our outdoor environment may not be pristine wilderness. Perhaps you might find “still waters” sitting on a park bench, walking in a garden, strolling on the waterfront, or gazing at a tree. What seems to be most important is holding the intention for interior spaciousness and peace as you open to connecting with all.