Listening to Nature
We were really taught to listen by howler monkeys and toucans. It was in Costa Rica that our understanding of listening shifted. The first week we were in Monteverde serving as Global Ministry Volunteers our family learned about what was happening outside by hearing it inside. The rain pelted our tin roof with deafening gladness, I remember not being able to talk on the phone or Skype because of the deafening rain. We lived under a beautiful old Mahogany tree that also liked to regularly drop large kiwi sized seeds onto the roof. The stray dogs were friendly enough, but why did they feel the need to party in our yard each and every night? And the roosters next door did not follow our schedule sometimes crowing with silly garbles at 4, 4:30 and 5:30 am. That darn bird also sounded like a crying child at that time of the night, causing me to jump from the bed to check on our kids. We didn't sleep much the first few months.
And then we started to appreciate being able to know the weather from our kitchen. We appreciated the neighborhood voices of pup and poultry. Everything connected us to the outside world. We learned to live more closely to the earth because we heard it. The rhythm of the jungle bugs and sometimes fierce wind reminded us that we were not the center of the world.
When we ventured out for a hike, walk or even just to the bus stop we were often interrupted by the sounds and sights of nature. Holy interruptions we would call them. One day we were called over to see a troop of monkeys with the male howler calling out with voice that can penetrate beyond one mile. Babies grasping backs of mothers peacefully eating leaves.
We began to recognize our neighbors by their voices, the Social Flycatcher, the Mot Mot, and one of our favorites the Three Wattled Bell Bird. Our hurried walk stopped by nature.
Sometimes our kids fought along the walk to or from a some place in town; I would try to figure out ways to find relief to the painful annoyance of sibling jabs. Many of my attempts would fail. But what worked almost every time was nature. Even when a hike was attended with reluctance when a bird, snake, monkey or even an insect was spotted or heard the interruption was enough to realign us.
In the presence of nature we witnessed creativity, beauty, a fierce otherness that was somehow close. In the presence of nature we listened, we saw and often we made space for awe.
We remembered, like sinners at the communion table, our place in God's creation and the creativity and goodness of God.
This remembering through listening continues to deepen within us, even as we grieve leaving Monteverde.
We have insulation here, we have an abundance of distraction; things that bring comfort and sometimes numbness. My hope is that I will continue to listen, to step outside the comforts into a life uncommon. I yearn to remember my belovedness. I yearn to remember to listen outside as I attempt to hear inside. May I venture into God's creation to become more attuned to my own heart. A family hike will surely be different in the Appalachian mountains than in Costa Rica, but the listening will be the same.
Scott Hardin-Nieri likes his salsa and conversation spicy. He can be found climbing trees, dodging poison ivy and playing in the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Scott is an ordained pastor with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is an alumnus and mentor with the Bethany Fellowship Transition into Ministry program. Prior to moving to North Carolina, he and his family served as Global Ministry Volunteers of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ in a vulnerable cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Currently he is the Associate Minister for Green Chalice of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Director of the Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina.
Scott enjoys accompanying people during transformative experiences, whether in worship, spiritual direction, sharing stories, work trips, live music concerts, camps or retreats. He continues to be reminded of his name as “beloved child of God” most clearly in the forests, oceans and deserts and seeks to invite faith communities into conversations regarding creation. He is most alive when playing outside with his partner and their two children.