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Henry David Thoreau and the Still, Small Voice

Henry sat in front of his little cabin on one of his three chairs, listening to the evening. If you were there you might have thought there was nothing to listen to. Certainly no television or iPod. Those wouldn't be around for 100 years or more. There was no one to talk with, no airplanes overhead, no radio coming from next door. Mr. Emerson's house, the closest thing to a next door neighbor, was over a mile away (not that he had a radio to play, in any case). Even the natural world was still. No wind rippled the pond, and the birds had stopped singing as night approached.

Still, Henry listened for the tiniest sounds: a small fish breaking the surface of the water and splashing down again, the crackle of leaves as a mouse passed by, the sound of wings as a crow passed overhead. To him, these miniature sounds were music.

Of course, most of the townspeople thought Henry David Thoreau was crazy when he decided to build a tiny cabin from used materials out in Emerson's wood lot by Walden Pond. Why would a promising writer want to move away from society to sit with birds and bugs for company? In fact, Henry enjoyed the company of Emerson and the other thinkers who shared his Transcendentalist philosophy. However, to him the quiet of the pond and the animals and plants that lived in and around it provided excellent company. Sometimes, Henry thought, the conversation you learn the most from is the one in which the least is said.

As he watched the last rays of light glisten on the pond, Henry thought about the Biblical story about the prophet Elijah, who crawled off to a mountain cave to listen for what God wanted him to do.

While Elijah stood outside his cave, a great wind whipped around the mountains, sending boulders crashing to the ground in the fury of its passing. But God wasn't in the wind.

Then an earthquake rattled the mountain with a terrific rumbling, but God wasn't in the earthquake.

Then came a fire, sweeping across the rocks and brush outside the cave, red and roaring and grand. But God wasn't in the fire, either.

Finally, after all the roaring and crashing, everything became quiet. Elijah stood there shaking, wrapped in his cloak, just waiting. And out of the silence came the still, small voice of his God.

"I'm not at all sure," thought Henry, "that I believe in that God of the Bible, the one who chatted with Elijah. But whatever God is, I'm pretty sure I know it better out here in the quiet than I would through any ranting sermon. Maybe God is speaking to me in the small voice of the jumping fish and the rustling leaves, the still pond and the stars beginning to peek through the trees. Maybe I hear God when my heart is still and I can listen with my very smallest inner ear. Maybe... ." And his thoughts drifted off with a small breeze that came and ruffled his hair and rippled across the quiet lake.

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Last updated on Thursday, August 16, 2012.

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