By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published August 20, 2009
I am walking down the brick path as the big clock starts chiming ten times. It is my morning break from my job at the theology library at Emory University, and I am all alone. The air is clear, there are huge trees surrounding the path, and the sky is a crisp shade of blue.
Near the creek I spy a chipmunk filling his cheeks with something good he’s discovered on the ground. As I watch him, a mockingbird begins tuning up, perhaps sending a secret message to his fellow flock. Nearby huge sunflowers stretch their heads toward the glimmering summer sky.
I wonder if this is what heaven will be like. Will there be brick paths, generous trees and little creatures scurrying along the ground? Will a distant clock toll the hours?
There are moments in life when it seems that heaven touches earth. Many people travel long distances to find such moments. They seek solitary places, perhaps climbing mountains or renting a house by the sea.
But there are moments even in a city when it seems that the veil is torn in two and you get these little glimpses of heaven.
It is still summer break at Emory. In a few weeks the campus will be inundated with students, scurrying down this very path, chatting, laughing and gabbing on phones. They may not stop to peek down the ravine and glimpse the chipmunk. They may not notice the symphony of the mockingbirds.
Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, who wrote “Cross Creek,” reminds us of the importance of nature with her words, “We cannot live without the earth … and something is shriveled in a man’s heart when he turns away from it and concerns himself only with the affairs of men.”
Nature gives us mesmerizing mementoes of God. There is the tiny hummingbird in our yard that zips out of the bushes, lights on the feeder and takes a sip. Then he is gone as quickly as he came.
There are the birds flocking to our birdbath to take a dip in the sizzling afternoon heat and the curious squirrels that stop by for a drink. There’s the huge hawk that soars over the traffic on nearby Clairmont Road.
Indoors, with the drone of TV and radio, it is too easy to forget God’s presence, but if you take a step outside and look around, you’ll see that the natural world can be like a chapel, a place where you may draw nearer to God.
The Father created us in a garden. The Son prayed in the desert and revealed himself to his friends on a mountaintop. He wept in a garden before dying upon a tree.
The world of human affairs calls us, of course; it pulls us toward our responsibilities as parents, workers, spouses and toilers in God’s vineyard. But there were times when Jesus took a break from his obligations, leaving the crowds behind and seeking quiet places where he prayed.
Even in the city, these peaceful spots are prevalent. All you need is a little patch of earth, a glimpse of sky, a single tree, a sparrow, and a few moments of silence.
“In the silence of the heart God speaks,” said Mother Teresa.
It is hard to hear God’s voice amidst the ringing of cell phones, the growling of traffic and the banging of construction, unless we consciously turn our backs on man-made diversions and place ourselves in a secluded spot.
“Eye has not seen nor ear heard … what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9) is St. Paul’s way of telling us about heaven. But even in our earthly lives, we glimpse evidence of God’s great love.
In a secluded place for a few golden moments we can recall the words from Genesis that accompanied each day of creation: “God saw that it was good.” In the world that God created we can find the peace we are seeking—and a little foretaste of heaven.
“Death in the Choir” is Lorraine Murray’s latest book and her first mystery, which takes place at a Catholic church in Decatur. It is available at local bookstores or online. Artwork is by Jef Murray. Readers may e-mail the Murrays at firstname.lastname@example.org.