The Mute Witness

Last weekend, I went on a camping trip, which included a 24-hour solo, which means I got a sleeping bag, my Bible, my journal, a gallon of water, a tarp and six pieces of string (to make an abode for the night) to survive on. During this time, everybody is assigned a certain area. That is what makes it a struggle at times. You want to just get up and walk around but you only have enough room to pace back and forth. This was my second time doing a 24-hour solo. The first time I did it, it was a struggle, but in retrospect I greatly appreciated it. This time, I was looking forward to it with great enthusiasm. And to be honest, I really didn’t do much during those 24 hours. I read a few books of the Bible and prayed here and there. But I would say I spent the majority of my time just observing nature. I laid on a picnic table for hours watching the clouds move elegantly in the sky and watching the oak trees sway gracefully all around me. There is something about nature that directs to God. It’s like God is screaming for our attention through nature but often, we are too consumed with other things to stop and look. I was contemplating this notion further. Nature is a witness to God for many people, including myself. And yet, nature does not use a single word to convince me of a certain doctrine or the validity of the Bible or anything else. There is a popular adage that is well over-used in youth ministry that I got to wondering about too. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the word everywhere you go. If necessary, use words.” That is exactly what nature does. Quite ironic when you begin to think of St. Francis and his own love for nature. Nature is like a wordless witness. Upon return from the trip, I picked up a book I’ve been working on for a couple weeks entitled, The Contemplative Pastor by Eugene Peterson. The chapter that I happened to read dealt completely with the writings of Annie Dillard who if you are familiar with her, is what I would deem a ‘nature theologian’. What I mean by that is that she takes lessons learned by observing nature and draws connections to our relationship with God. Wonderful stuff. Well, anyways, as Peterson mulls over some of Dillard’s work, he says something quite profound:

Being takes precedence over using, explaining, possessing. The witness points, mute, so as not to interfere with the sound of silence. . . Important things are at stake – God, salvation – and we want so much to involve outsiders in these awesome realities that we leave the humble ground of witness and use our words to influence and motivate, to advertise and publicize. Then we are no longer witnesses, but lawyers arguing the case.

Essentially, we are reducing ourselves to used-car salespeople, coaxing people that our product (who happens to be Christ crucified) is better than the products the world has to offer. But there is something in our state of being that can point beyond this world, much as clouds and oak trees did for me on my solo. Instead of simply trying to argue our case for Christ, maybe we should simply be witnesses that take the stand, humbly, and at times mute, with tears of joy streaming down our face. And may that be enough to point to something that transcends language.

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