After a week of driving through 11 states our final stop before reaching our new home was in Western Nevada. Our relative, an avid hiker, took Sarah and me to the northern part of Lake Tahoe, just on the Nevada-California border. He wanted to show us Mt Lassen, the highest peak that was closest to our new city of Chico. After a drive and a short hike through tall pines we reached a lookout that overlooked the lake and the surrounding mountains. The air was fresh and full of the scent of pine. At 8,500 feet in elevation we could see a faded Mt Lassen in the distance. Just a three hour drive and we’d be home. But it wasn’t the stunning views that arrested me on that peak; it was the silence.
In the little hiking I’ve done I’ve stood on peaks anywhere from 450 feet to 15,000 feet in altitude and I never had experienced the kind of silence I experienced at the Lake Tahoe mountain. Usually those high altitudes means there’s always a wind, or at least some sort of breeze. But on that day it was pure stillness. The voices from fellow hikers just a couple hundred feet away sounded crystal clear, as if they were right next to me. Even my own whisper sounded as if it could travel a hundred miles and still be heard. Not even a bird was chirping. While my wife and her cousin were marvelling at the visual beauty I was marvelling at what wasn’t coming into my ears: sound. “Shh,” I said. “Can we be quiet for a moment and just sit in the silence?” I can’t remember when I had experienced a silence like this. Even at home a quiet moment is filled with the hum of the refrigerator or air conditioner, or a passing car. But today there was none of that. It was sacred for me. And I wanted to really notice it.
As I looked around, felt the sun on me, and enjoyed the stillness and quiet, I was reminded of Elijah who heard God’s voice not in the mighty sounds of nature but in the whisper of the quiet, in the stillness. I felt calm and in the presence of God. For one who often finds God in music, this was special for me. I hadn’t realised what I was missing. In our modern lives and cities we can’t find that kind of quiet. Perhaps this is one reason people love to hike in nature, getting away from the noise of civilisation to be reminded of the peaceful quiet that underlies everything. Shut off the refrigerators, cars, and clanging of our own voices needing to fill the silence and we discover an amazing space to encounter God. We may even find that our own distracting thoughts quiet down. Of course, noise does not prevent God from being truly present. We can find the divine in all our day to day activities, but in that calm, still quiet at Lake Tahoe I felt a certain closeness to God that I hadn’t experienced before. God revealed God’s self to me in a new way.
Silence like I experienced is a rare find, but we can begin to look for it when we step outside of our homes, go for a walk, climb a mountain, and let go of the need to fill the silence. Let the silence and stillness speak for itself. God is there waiting to be heard, not using words, but quietly speaking love directly into our hearts.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod