I have never been good at doing nothing. But I have always been good at being still. There’s a difference. At least there has been for me. I was in many ways an odd child (I was often told so at the time and people who speak with the retrospect of the decades since still agree on this issue). I was about normally gregarious and my siblings and I played much together and I had friends. But I frequently sought time alone. For what reason, you may ask. Well, when I was 9 or so, my family still resided in the heart of a tiny town called Eminence, Indiana. There was a utility building behind the house and behind the utility building was a small weed patch – a space boxed in between the shed, the garden plot, the neighboring farmer’s fence-line and a gravel driveway. The rest of the property got tilled or mowed respectively but this little corner was generally left to its own devices. In short order it was grown up in horseweed, iron weed, Jopie and the other taller weeds that choke out the grass, clover, sorrel, etc. and rule supreme until the more briary growths get started. Off and on, I had use for the dry woody stems of the horseweed in the fall and the tough pliant stems of the ironweed in the mid to late summer – but that’s another story. I also haunted the weed patch because it was a prime location for catching grasshoppers, katydids and crickets for fishing bait. In the pursuit of bait I discovered that Praying Mantises also haunted the weed patch. They were bigger and creepier than the grasshoppers and I generally left them alone. One day I saw a Praying Mantis holding and eating a struggling grasshopper. The fascinating, if somewhat grisly scene captured my curiosity. Among other questions – I knew how I caught grasshoppers – how did the Mantises catch them? This one obviously had! Helpful internet videos not having made their advent in the early 1960’s, on a subsequent visit to the weed patch I say down with my back to the rear wall of the utility shed and got still. After a while a big green mantis made its presence known by hopping/climbing from the stem of one weed to another. I hadn’t seen it until it moved. If I hadn’t caught it assuming its new location I might not have been able to see it then. I had always kind of stumbled on them by accident before. The long slender green mantis hugged the long slender green weed stem and held still. I maintained my station against the shed wall and held still. I don’t know exactly how long it took. A while. Now and then a grasshopper would hop from place to place in the weed patch. Finally, one hopped onto a stem within reach of the mantis. The mantis maintained its grip on its perch with four legs though those legs extended and reached out with the big barbed ‘praying’ legs to snatch the grasshopper off the neighboring weed. Dinner was served. Oddly, no attempt of mine to describe the fascinating scene to my siblings (three of whom are female) could move them to spend any appreciable time crouching against a shed in a weed patch. The very notion brought on dismissive eye rolls. For myself, I discovered that there were almost limitless creek banks, logs in the woods, perches in trees and so forth that served as places to be still and see neat stuff. I found that if you hold still enough long enough, chipmunks will climb on your legs. If you are able to hold still in the dark hours sans the comfort of a campfire, possums and skunks will come right up and sniff at you. When it’s a skunk you get real good at continuing to hold still until the skunk satisfies its curiosity and moves on. I have watched a fox pad by, climb a large anthill and survey the surroundings before moving on. He never knew I was there because I am good at holding still. I also now knew right where to set a trap to acquire a fox fur! This kind of holding still is not the same as doing nothing because it gathers knowledge and reveals wonders. Activity is good too. But my life would be poorer without the hours of solitude and stillness from my childhood on. Those hours also prepared me to understand Psalm 46:10 and learn how to profit from the Psalmist’s advice ‘Be still and know that I am God’ – advice I highly recommend.
Pastor and Author Terry Bailey, Senior Minister of Indian Run Christian Church