Monthly faith reflections from Pastor Clark.
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”?
The woman said to Jesus, “Sir, you have no bucket.”
This Lent, the gospel of John shows us one-on-one encounters between Jesus and another person. Last week, Nicodemus, a pious leader, the consummate insider. Now, the woman at the well, an outcast among outcasts.
(The timing says it all. In this hot, dry place, everyone went to the well for water in the cool of the morning or evening, not in midday heat, as this woman did.)
As with Nicodemus, misunderstanding and confusion fill this conversation. The woman and Jesus talked past each other.
We might say, Jesus spoke about what is unseen (living water, eternal life), and she responded about what is seen (buckets, this well, relief from hard work). She was on the practical level, and Jesus, the soul level. She was just trying to make a living; Jesus was encouraging her to come alive. The distance between them yawned.
At first. Amazingly, they find each other. The resonances of truth--her honesty, his authentic generosity--light a way through the dark. She reveals and Jesus discovers her deep thirst, her soul level desire.
This became good news for her and her whole community. They invited Jesus to stay, and he stayed--John's keyword for a true and deep connection on the soul level. Which is the very living water Jesus was talking about.
Who invites you to the soul level? Who are you inviting? Ask God to tune the resonances between us, so we can be drawn together and stay in Christ.
“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
“Nicodemus came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God.’”
“We know,” Nicodemus said. But Jesus confounded and even canceled what he knew.
What do we know about Christ? This meeting between Jesus and Nicodemus gets me second-guessing what our knowing is worth. Will Jesus draw us, like Nicodemus, into unknowing?
“Be still and know that I am God,” is our theme this Lent. At evening prayer on Wednesdays, St. Paul people will tell stories about when they were still and knew God was God.
But the knowing born of stillness seems to be entirely different than the knowing Nicodemus asserted.
“The Cloud of Unknowing” is a small guide to contemplative prayer, written by an anonymous Christian mystic in the Middle Ages. It advises the student, “For God can well be loved, but God cannot be thought. By love God can be grasped and held, but by thought, neither grasped nor held.”
Is this what Jesus was showing Nicodemus? Nic resisted. Then he let go a little. Then at the cross, he let go completely.
“The Book of Privy Counsel” (a kind of second volume to “The Cloud of Unknowing”) says, “And so I urge you, go after experience rather than knowledge.”
Ask God to help you hold what you know lightly, or even to let go of it completely. Can you seek simply to love God and to be loved by God? --PC
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