First posted October 13, 2022
The art of sitting in the woods.
When I was in junior high I started to take walks into the woods. Living in the country but not on a farm meant you had little to do at times and no one to commune with. I was the only child in our family, so the monotony of my day could not be interrupted by siblings. How often I wish I had a brother or a sister. So I would walk into our 24 acre wood, find a quiet place to sit, and meditate. Yes, I was a fourteen year old who would do nothing but sit and think. Hard to believe? Imagine, if you will, a time when there were no smartphones. No cell phones period. I could escape the world. Young people these days have no such luxury unless they make radical choices. And it would not just be a choice for a day, but as a way of life! Social media was the telephone, and there was only one in the house, in my parent’s bedroom.
Well, back to the woods. Anyone who knows the outdoors can appreciate that there is an art to sitting in the woods. There is a time and a place for such leisure. Missouri’s forests just breathed insects, so sitting on the ground in warm weather would not long be a pleasant respite. Under those conditions, the trick was to bring a ground cloth and spread it out. In my old age, the folding lawn chair has replaced the ground cloth, but I have to admit that there is something missing. When you sit on the forest floor you can smell the leaves and the ground beneath, the moss, the decaying branches. There is a closeness you sense.
Yes, there is an art to sitting in the woods. The timing is important. I have found that after the first frost is ideal. It needs to be a bit uncomfortable outside. The frost kills the ticks and chiggers and chases into their winter homes the bugs and snakes. Under such conditions, if the ground is dry, a ground cloth is not needed. Just find a bed of leaves or a carpet of moss, and lay back. Leaning against a tree can be ideal.
It was such a day when I began to ask the question of whether God really existed. It was a bit nippy outside, it was overcast, and I lay upon the ground and looked up. All I could see were towering oaks and hickories. This was a maturing forest, so the trees had no limbs for the first forty feet or so before opening up into a canopy. It was almost like a Gothic cathedral. All I would hear would be the wind gently rustling the leaves above. I had to be careful in such a position because I could be assaulted at any time by a descending acorn or hickory nut.
Yes, even at the age of fourteen, one could ask “Did God make all of this?”
And that question is still in my thoughts.
It seems that part of the answer resides in what remains as mystery. As I grew older, I presumably learned more about Creation. That’s right – I call it Creation. Most call it Nature. That’s fine with me. But the more I learned about Nature, the more I was in awe of it. Knowing the Creation is a journey. It only takes a lifetime to discover that behind every new nugget of knowledge is another question. I remember looking through the magnifier for the first time to behold the translucent bodies in the soil, an entire universe of life that I had never known before. And as I encountered wildlife I marveled. Then it was the plants, and then the birds. The birds, alas, were the final chapter. It was as if I was learning a new language, hearing for the first time dozens of species. And each of these discoveries put me in awe of how little I knew and how much magnificence there was around me.
So here I am, decades later, now realizing that the universe is billions of light years older (and larger) than it was when I was fourteen. Explain that to me, how the universe aged 10 billion years as I aged only fifty. When seeing all the amazing images of the universe, the billions of galaxies, within which are billions of stars, around which are countless planets, upon which may be other forms of life.
And there is a God out there that created all this?
If He did, I think our comprehension of God as being the bearded nude guy in the Sistine Chapel is a bit constricted.
Yet even the atheistic physicist will admit that the universe had a beginning. And that is what is stated in the Bible. “In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.” God was not a lonely, omnipotent divinity, with hands that molded the earth and threw it through the dark matter. He was, or is, something far beyond that. He resides in the very force that made the universe, that formed the galaxies, the solar systems and the planets. He is resident in atoms, neutrons, protons, electrons and Higgs boson.
Maybe we ask this question in the wrong place. The universe is well beyond our comprehension. Most people cannot even comprehend the mathematics, as if a “light year” is something we encounter, or that an “astronomical unit” is the distance we covered when visiting our relatives. Most of us can make sense out of inches and feet, but why is it we measure everything in space with the letter “e” superscripted after a number?
No, the universe is not the best place to discover God. Let’s look at something more “down to earth,” the tree that grows in the forest, the very trees I looked up at long ago. How is it that cell’s ever evolved into hickory trees? Why? The evolutionist will state that the tree evolved from mossy slime, but has it occurred to you that the complexity of slimy moss is only slightly less than a seventy foot tall hickory? It is this life process that binds them both together. They have cells, they have mitochondria, and within those capsules are the strands of DNA that order their existence.
Why is that?
Upon answering that question one may claim there is no longer a need for a God. Yet I could ask the same question of the very elements in nature. Why does oxygen exist? Let’s keep it even simpler. Where does hydrogen come from?
Yes, as I looked up into the trees, I asked the question “Where do I come from?” “Why do I exist?” “What is my purpose in life?” I believe every young person asks those three questions. It is a sad thing when all that surrounds us is just physical matter that happens to exist, with no real beginning and no end, just chemistry. What is ironic is when someone says that we assign what is unknown to God, yet those very same questions are asked by every scientist. The life that surrounds us is also in us. The summer after I graduated from college, a movie came out that asserted that the Force is within us. This thought is not new or necessarily restricted to superstition. It is a wonderful mystery.
I did not find any answers that day. Yet it is remarkable that all these decades later I still remember that day, not because I found answers, but because I asked the questions. And to this day, the questions still abide because I am not all-knowing. It is part of the joy of life to explore it, to know that each day can be different, that each day can bring new knowledge of wonderful things.
By Eric Niewoehner
© Copyright 2022 to Eric Niewoehner.
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