“Like standing water can reflect a face that stops and stares; So too a heart reflects a life in all of its affairs.” (Proverbs 27:19)
This is the twenty-seventh in a series of posts on Proverbs, which I am translating into common meter. The following contains my rendering of Proverbs 27, preceded by a brief reflection.
The morning is sunny and getting hotter as we turn into the parking lot of Conkle’s Hollow State Nature Preserve. I find a shady spot in the upper lot, and Pat and I slide our binoculars out of their cases and prepare for a short hike. We have spent the previous night at a Bed & Breakfast in Hocking Hills State Park, and are just out for a short excursion before heading home in a few hours. We are looking for an easy walk with some opportunities for birdwatching. According to what we read, Conkle’s Hollow seems to fit the bill.
The Hocking Hills area is located in Ohio’s rolling hills, known as the Appalachian Plateau, which is just east of the western flatlands, known as the Till Plains. The Till Plains is a major landform of flat mile after flat mile of Ohio corn and soybeans that is the start of the Great Plains. The Appalachian Plateau, in contrast, is hill country, where the vast level commercial farms of the Till Plains give way to smaller freeholds of woodland and fields of timothy. These hills are not the higher peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, which lie farther to the east. Still, they have their own magnificence; if not in stature, then texture. For the Plateau is a varied terrain of hills and dales with many hidden caves, ravines, and waterfalls. It is also an area rich in wildlife, including birds, which is why, with field glasses at the ready, we are heading down the parking lot to the trailhead.
Conkle’s Hollow is a narrow gorge about a half mile in length. It offers two trails. The higher one follows the circumference of the rim of the gorge for about two and a half miles and requires a bit of climbing and scrambling. The lower one follows a small stream at the bottom of the gorge for about a half mile to a waterfall at the far end. It is bounded by cliff walls on either side. We choose the latter.
A narrow footbridge over the gently flowing stream is the start of the gorge trail. On both sides of the bridge are thick carpets of green ferns with a smattering of wildflowers such as the long-stemmed blue phlox. We pause on the bridge for a moment to look into the waters and watch a few tadpoles and small fish darting hither and yon with a purpose known only to them. On the far side of the bridge, the trail turns to the left. It’s there we get our first relief from the heat as the warm dry air of the parking lot slowly yields to the cool damp air of the gorge. Walking leisurely, we watch the sides of the gorge rise to perhaps 200 feet above the floor, with the distance side to side narrowing to only 100 feet or so at some places. Heavy shadows, earthy smells, and primordial sounds against a hovering silence speak to a very old ecosystem indeed.
The small stream that cuts down the middle of the gorge is hidden at times by an undergrowth of ferns and small plants. Growing up from the floor on either side of the stream are enormous trees – hemlock and birch mostly, that appear to be old growth. They are perfectly straight, no doubt as a result of shelter from winds and storms and the freedom to stretch to the sun and sky high above. But for their inaccessibility, in an earlier age some of the hemlock might have been cut for a ship’s mast. The path follows one side of the stream and is bounded on the stream side by soon to ripen touch-me-nots, and on the other by moss covered rocks and steep walls. The path itself is concrete, which seems strangely out-of-place in such an otherwise unspoiled setting. Still, it does allow us the freedom to focus on the wildlife and natural beauty without having to think about our footing.
As we make our way ever deeper into the gorge, images bring words of Scripture to my mind. The high walls and foreboding rock outcroppings: “Yea though I walk through valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” (Psalm 23:4) The mighty trees bordering the stream: “The one who meditates on God’s law day and night shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water.” (Psalm 1:2-3) The birds darting among the tree branches: “The birds are safe in trees that thrive where rivers rush along; they nest among the verdant leaves and sing a happy song.” (Psalm 104:12) And the easy paved pathway: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your pathways straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
We settle into an unhurried rhythm – looking, listening, lingering. Before too long we hear a birdsong – the unmistakable call of a wood thrush echoing through the gorge. Ee-oh-lay, he sings, and then a pause … and ee-oh-lay again. Always enough of a pause for its hauntingly beautiful song to reverberate off of the canyon walls and back again. Never in a rush – more than enough time to let its call settle into our souls. The wood thrush is a favorite, and its call never ceases to delight. The naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote of the song of the wood thrush: “Whenever a man hears it he is young, and Nature is in her spring; wherever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of Heaven are not shut against him.” What Thoreau is saying is that the sound of a wood thrush awakens a place deep inside of us – a place that knows no boundaries, no fears, no hurries. A place we call the soul.
The gates of Heaven are not shut because we can feel the hope beyond. It is what the early Celts would have called a “thin place” – a place where the veil between heaven and earth is very thin. A place where God feels close. Perhaps God is speaking in the song of the wood thrush? Not directly or in a panentheistic sense, but more like a reflection onto our soul. We remain still – listening and looking. It’s then that Pat spots a movement in the understory and suddenly a wood thrush hops onto the path. A rare sighting because the wood thrush is reclusive by nature and its cinnamon brown color is otherwise good camouflage. We have a few moments to study it before it disappears back into the undergrowth. We search the terrain with our binoculars but its time has passed. Our time is also up as we reach the end of the paved path, and reluctantly turn around without getting to the waterfall. But no regrets because we have heard deep calling to deep and our souls are filled with joy and hope.
The morning in Conkle’s Hollow reveals to us something of the eternal nature of God. Not directly of course because as the Apostle Paul wrote, “For now we see in a mirror indirectly, but then we will see face to face.” (1Corinthians 13:12) This is the way of the spiritual life. Some things cannot be perceived directly. But if we are attentive, we can catch a glimpse of them, as in a reflection.
This is the point of Proverbs 27:19, “Like standing water can reflect a face that stops and stares; so too a heart reflects a life in all of its affairs.” (Proverbs 27:19) Although we can never look directly at our own face, we can see its reflection in a mirror or even a pool of still, clear water. What is true about how water can show a reflection of a face, is true about how a heart is a reflection of a life in all of its affairs – words, thoughts, and deeds. We cannot look at our heart directly, but we can ‘see’ it as a reflection of our actions. The authors of the NET write that Proverbs 27:19 “means that a person’s heart is the true reflection of that person. It is in looking at the heart, the will, the choices, the loves, the decisions, the attitudes, that people come to self-awareness.” Jesus says much the same thing, “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)
Our morning stroll in Conkle’s Hollow is deeply satisfying. Our senses have perceived a reflection of the spiritual realm and our souls are at ease. We have been attentive, and God has given us a glimpse of something beyond. But for those who are attentive to the ways of their heart, Jesus gives a greater promise: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
1 Don’t boast of what tomorrow holds,
or brag about a thing;
For you cannot prognosticate,
what any day may bring.
2 Don’t call attention to yourself –
let others praise your name;
Much better that a stranger gives,
you honor and acclaim.
3 A stone can be a heavy lift,
and sand a weighty haul;
But provocation by a fool,
is heavier than all.
4 Though wrath and rage are harsh and cruel,
and anger awful strong –
Can any withstand jealousy?
Is anyone so strong?
5 Much better is a reprimand,
that’s openly revealed;
Than love abiding in the heart,
and carefully concealed.
6 The wounds inflicted from a friend,
are given out to bless;
Not so the kisses from a foe,
though given in excess.
7 The one who’s full loathes honeycomb –
it’s sickening to eat;
But to the one with hunger pangs,
what’s bitter will taste sweet.
8 Much like a bird that flees its nest,
to sojourn far away;
Is anyone who leaves their home,
without a place to stay.
9 Perfume and ointments bring great joy,
and makes the spirit whole;
A friend who offers sound advice,
is sweetness to the soul.
10 Don’t leave a friend for relatives,
when trouble comes your way;
A nearby neighbor’s better than,
your family far away.
11 Be wise, my child, in all you do,
so joyful I will be;
Then I can answer anyone,
who criticizes me.
12 The prudent find a place to hide,
when danger’s round the bend;
But fools just keep on going on,
and suffer in the end.
13 Demand the coat of one who swears,
to pay a stranger’s debt;
And do not give it back again,
until the payment’s met.
14 To bless your neighbors in the morn,
with loud and blaring voice;
Will feel to them more like a curse,
than reason to rejoice.
15 The dripping from a leaky roof,
upon a rainy day;
Is like the nagging of a wife,
that will not go away.
16 To tame a shrew is harder than,
preventing wind to blow;
Or grasping oil with a hand,
so that it cannot flow.
17 As iron sharpens iron so,
it’s keener in the end;
A soul makes sharp another soul –
a friend enhances friend.
18 Whoever guards a fig tree will,
be sure to eat its fruit;
Whoever guards their master will,
be held in high repute.
19 Like standing water can reflect,
a face that stops and stares;
So too a heart reflects a life,
in all of its affairs.
20 Destruction and the underworld,
are never satisfied;
And neither are a human’s eyes,
which will not be denied.
21 The crucible tests silver ore,
the furnace flames test gold;
But praise will test the human heart,
by how much it can hold.
22 Although you grind a fool the way,
a mortar crushes grain;
You won’t remove their foolishness,
your efforts are in vain.
23 Be diligent to know your flocks –
the health of every sheep;
Give close attention to your herds –
those trusted to your keep.
24 For riches will not long endure,
no matter how immense;
Not even is a crown secure,
for generations hence.
25 When hay is safely gathered in,
and new grass blades appear;
It’s then the mountain crops are ripe,
and harvest time is near.
26 For clothes you wear are from the wool,
you harvest from your sheep;
The fields you buy are from the sale,
of goats once in your keep.
27 Your goats will yield sufficient milk,
to feed your family;
And sustenance for servant girls,
so nourished they will be.