A quiet place
By A. Ray Lee
A half-starved young Australian cattle dog appeared in my little tomato plot behind the pastor’s home searching for something to eat. He was not wearing a collar and it was evident that he had been neglected. I made the judgment that he had been dropped off nearby. A love for dogs runs in our family. Jacques, our beloved poodle, had just died after 16 years with us and there were still a few cans of his food in the pantry. I opened one and extended it toward the young dog but he would not approach me so I emptied it on the ground and stepped back as he gulped down the food. Thus began a relationship that grew into a bond between us.
Fred, as I named him after the character always looking for a handout developed by TV comic Red Skelton, soon regained his strength and grew into a beautiful dog extremely loyal to me. He was not an inside dog. I purchased an igloo but he would not enter it preferring to sleep on the pine straw even on the coldest nights. The house did not have a fenced yard. Regretfully I eventually had to put him on a tether to keep him off the busy highway.
Also, he had developed some habits which I thought would get us both in trouble. He liked to herd cattle, much to our neighbors’ displeasure, that were pastured at the rear of the house. Then I discovered he was visiting the adjacent cemetery collecting decorative floral arrangements and hiding them behind shrubbery. I had already been accosted by disgruntled people over the fact that their flowers were missing.
To compensate for his confinement, Fred and I did a fast two-mile walk to begin our day at least five times a week. It was a practice started on his behalf but I soon discovered its benefits for me as well which reached beyond the physical toning of muscles. It was an excellent boon for my mind providing a quiet zone in which I was able to put aside any distractions and prepare for the day ahead as well as give thought to the ongoing challenges of being a busy pastor.
Fred and I continued the practice after I had retired from an active pastorate and moved into our retirement house. As we walked I had begun to develop an avocation as a writer by remembering stories from my childhood to be later written out for my children. Many sermons found their genesis in those walks.
After Fred died I continued to walk alone until aging joints and hip surgery decreed my body was no longer able to accommodate my desire. I missed the quiet time they had provided, but I soon found a place where I often retreat early in the mornings upon a patio hidden from the neighborhood at the rear of our retirement home. It overlooks a pastoral scene where the loudest noise is that of serenading mockingbirds or an occasional dog barking in the distance. In those moments I have found answers to things which lay heavily upon my mind. Much of my understanding of practical theology has been formed in times of quiet meditation as I have sought to open my heart to the presence of God’s spirit.
It is where I have found comfort while facing sorrows and grief. In difficult times I have found peace and contentment mediated to me through the Holy Spirit. Thank God for a quiet place to which we can retreat when the deafening noise of a media-crazed generation drowns out the voice of God. It is there where God speaks in “a still small voice” as he did to the prophet Isaiah after the winds had swept across the mountains, the earth had trembled beneath his feet, and the raging fires had passed. Everyone needs a quiet place to which he can turn.