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God said to Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (1st Kings 19)
In silence, there is a voice.
Waiting for me in silence were (and are) some of my life’s most profound questions and truths. And even though it can terrify me, I also hunger for silence. Being in control is a poor substitute for being loved. Avoiding silence only means that need for love controls me. Even when silence provokes, confuses, or feels painful, God is present. Becoming present to God’s presence in silence wakes me up to God’s presence in all other times and places—including the “storm,” “earthquake,” and “fire.”
Being still does not come naturally to me. I built myself around this lie: What I accomplish makes me worthy. Looking successful makes me loveable. But there is no way to win at being still. Being still is not a marketable skill. It’s not even an item on my to-do list: I get no endorphin burst from checking it off! It is therefore terrifying, because being still takes me to the fear at my very core: Will I be loved and accepted for who I am, apart from my successes and achievements?
And it does more. It takes me through that fear to the healing truth that’s deeper than the lie. My truest self is belonging-in-itself. My life is hidden with God in Christ: it always has been and always will be. Practicing being still, I’m becoming more free to be, without justification. This frees to help us succeed together, instead of pursuing success all by myself.
“Jesus loves me” cannot be understood by running the numbers or by vigorous debate. Jesus’ love cannot be approached objectively, only subjectively. This love has been placed within you and only there, within you, can it be discovered as the One Saving Reality.
What if Psalm 46 is God whispering to you, “Be still and know I love you”?
“When are we actually going to discuss the book?” he asked. I smiled and said, “I have bad news for you: we aren’t.”
Being still is the point of these “practice groups” around the book, The Universal Christ.
Compared to a typical book discussion group, it may feel stilted, even frustrating. It’s full of silence and listening and so little talking! What sharing we do is in brief and then no one answers the speaker but simply receives what they share. There’s little “back-and-forth” or “exchange of ideas”—which, for many of us, is the very path toward learning and understanding.
But there is another way to grow: by being still. It’s at once more direct and more unsettling, because it’s beyond our control.
You can try at home what these St. Paul practice groups are doing: a “contemplative sit.” Be still for 10 minutes with the verse from Psalm 46: “Be still and know that I am God.” Find more guidance at: www.saintpaulclinton.org/contemplativesit
More at peace. Less compulsive and competitive. More patient with others. More loving. More at ease with not knowing. More able to include and accept imperfection. Needing less to prove myself or to create and maintain a certain image of myself. More open. More grounded. More realistic and also more hopeful. Less judgmental. Happier. Less in my head and more in my body. More able to say no. More often and more naturally saying yes to what moves myself and others toward liberation, joy, and deep purpose. More invested. Bolder. More able to receive grace amid pain. More whole and healed at the deepest level. More present.
This begins to describe how being still has changed and is changing me.
Being still means leaning into love. It’s an inward posture of resting in God’s unconditional love for you and for the world. There are many ways to “do” it. You can rest in love while you’re on the move. And your capacity to do so grows as you practice being still outwardly—stilling the body, the tongue, the mind, and being in silence. The key is being patient with yourself and all the inevitable distractions.
Stillness is not just for monks or nuns cloistered away in a monastery. God invites you as you are into stillness. Being still is possible amid your real life and all its busyness, grief, imperfection, and joy. Can you imagine being still today? --PC
Once, when I was in the deeply depressed aftermath of a breakup (and my parent’s divorce and my dad’s suicide attempt), a friend lent me a CD: Jeff Buckley’s acclaimed 1994 album, “Grace.” If you know it, you’ll know why she now admits that, all things considered, this may have been a grave mistake.
I was sad, and so is the album. But didn’t so much make me sadder as it gave me a language to express the fullest depths of my sadness. (Psalm 13 did too.) One song stood out: Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Almost a cliché now, it said what I still hold as the truth:
And Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah
It’s the darkness that resonates with me. And also the Hallelujah. Love is both. It’s always both. If it’s not really both, is it really love? Isn’t this what the cross of Jesus says too? That Love is not a victory march? Love is suffering and our salvation. Only love can include both dark and light. Only love bears the darkness until dawn breaks.
We Christians should know this better than anyone, and many do. We’re just as good as anyone (and sometimes even better) at insisting on a love that’s only the good parts. Thank God for a Jew who dabbled in Buddhism (Cohen) and a kid raised on Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (Buckley).--PC
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