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Quiet moments

Nevie Peters  |  18 May 2020

Sprawled across a creaky metal grandstand at the peak of a grassy knoll, 47 young, sweaty faces watched the chaplain deliver his service. He was reading from a small bunch of notes in front of him on the table. It was warm, and a bit windy, and very quiet.

A few weeks prior, on our first visit to church at army recruit training, I was one of the silent few who sat in the pews, my slouch hat in hand, and then surprised my new friends by wandering up and taking communion.

Back then, distracted by the shock of our new home, spirituality seemed a distant concept for a lot of my mates. Later, though, the breeze rustling up our hill and the chaplain’s gentle voice a welcome change to the gunfire and smoke we were now used to, there was a different reaction, perhaps a more intense silence, that accompanied the service that day.

I am a compulsive over-thinker. In joining the Army Reserve, I was searching for structure to make up for my distracted and at times forgetful brain. In the army, I was given a place, a task, and a time to get it done by, and being able to fulfil these added a sense achievement to each day.


Catholic values also made an appearance: working as a close-knit team called for incessant patience and understanding. In my dark moments, I was consoled by friends who listened without judgment.

Where I identified a weakness, another recruit picked up the slack, and at times I was called to step up where others were struggling with a task. Being not as strong as the males in my team, for example, I was often behind the pack in physical tasks. When it came to medical exams, however, it was mainly the boys who defended our position while we females applied first aid. 

We relied on each other as much as we relied on the terrain, the weather, and the wind. In situations where the most basic things – sanitation, warm food and sleep – must be worked for, we were somewhat humbled, and the beauties of the earth, however small or insignificant they had once seemed, suddenly appeared all the more special in comparison to our everyday existence.

Kindness and comradery took on a new importance along with the unpredictability and strength of the natural world.


One night, we slept under the stars. Sleeping on my jacket on top of a rocky sleeping mat, I could have been curled up under a set of down blankets. Kangaroos kicked and scratched on the outskirts of our camp like a lovely lullaby. The stars above twinkled so brightly that I saw them still when I closed my eyes, and like the rest of the natural environment, they carried me off to sleep. It was in these situations that I began to understand the role of the earth as our home.

It is easier to imagine Jacob herding his sheep across the windy plains, Mary smelling the hay of the inn, or the magi climbing the desert dunes by starlight, when experiencing creation first-hand. It is a distant concept to some of us who are distracted by the daily doings of First World life but seeing the world from a humble perspective exposed the importance of the natural world and the people in it. 

Living in such a special world, however, comes with responsibility. By degrading the environment through laziness or greed, we take for granted all of its mysterious beauty and the creatures within. The earth cries out for us, the humans responsible for its safekeeping, in not just hurt but in betrayal as well.


Many young people I now know found our training experience a spiritual one. As a city dweller, I was shocked by the bright moonlight in the evenings. I loved walking down the street in the curious grey silence of early morning. And, of course, I will never forget rushing down the stairs with my mates, all of us tired-eyed and stiff, only to be met with an enormous grapefruit sunrise that sprawled across the sky, the kookaburra’s songs clear and harsh in the cold air.

Being away from the distractions of normal life gave me the time to recognize these little messages in nature. It was difficult being away from my usual comforts, but through nature, God still provided the guidance and encouragement necessary to make it through every day.

Perhaps this is why, towards the end of our course, we all sat very quietly listening to the chaplain speak. The most important messages – the kick of a stone or the buzz of a beetle – are often the quiet ones, and need to be listened out for in order to be understood.

> Nevie Peters is a member of our young writers community. Our young writers community is open to any young person aged 15 to 25 who is interested in writing for Australian Catholics and the publications we produce. If you would like to join our community, send us an email at



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