“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10
“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whisper of God.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
A rhythm of grace (a life-giving spiritual practice) for me has been the practice of stillness: being still; stopping; resting. It’s interesting how counter-intuitive it seems to our culture right now, doesn’t it? Being someone who grew up in a generation that spanned a progression from analog to digital, I remember when life moved 25-45 mph, telephones were attached to the wall, photos were shared by waiting for the film developer to call you letting you know that your photos are done…then you could mail the photo to a friend. Regular mail was not called ‘snail mail,’ it was called ‘mail.’ Now, a couple of decades later, not only has the speed limit increased, but technology has made all of those things that we’ve previously had to wait for become immediately available to us. The pace has become addictive to our society.
That is one of the reasons why I believe the practice of stillness is so important. It makes our place in the spinning top of society’s fast pace to stop. Silence can happen there. I’ve found that in certain places it’s easy to experience stillness: in nature, in a special place like a prayer garden or an empty chapel, or maybe on my sofa under lamplight after my children have gone to bed. However, in the craziness of life it can be hard to find, and because of that it is a discipline. It does require a choice: will we cultivate stillness and silence, or will we fill up our schedules with busyness to the point where it’s hard to breathe? Or maybe a more subtle ‘busyness:’ will we engage in social media and networking, get lost in the drone of online opinions and causes, or be entertained by the endless catalogue of movies and shows which are immediately available on our computers, tablets, and phones? Technology isn’t bad, but without moderation it can easily take the place of important life rhythms that allow us to engage life in an authentically meaningful way.
Here are a few gifts that I’ve been receiving lately through the practice of stillness:
It helps us return to reality
Psalm 46 says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” There in that verse, the Hebrew word that we see translated as “still” is: raphah. It means to slacken, be faint, forsake, let alone, be still. Something happens when we come to the Lord and lay aside all ambition, and we slacken our perceived control over our schedules by letting go of our to do lists, and goals. When we just sit in the Lord’s presence with no other agenda than to be present, life is able to focus again on what really matters and we are able to be in a place where we can hear who and Whose we truly are. A ‘knowing’ happens that is not otherwise attainable. A relational, experiential knowing.
It is where we are able to hear the whisper of God
When I think of being still in the Lord’s presence, I think of the iconic story found in 1 Kings 19, where Elijah experienced the Lord’s presence. Elijah was tired, having been on the run in fear for his life, and I guess he was in what we could call ‘a bit of a transition.’ In chapter 19, Elijah was at Horeb, the mountain of God.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave (vs. 11-13).
After all the displays of power that we (and Elijah) would associate with the presence of God, came a whisper. The whisper of God. Elijah knew that whisper was the presence of God, and was able to receive the direction and instruction that the Lord had for him. I’ve found that very often, being still postures my heart to hear the whisper of God in my life: the Lord speaking identity into my life, as well as instruction and guidance.
We learn how to engage appropriately
Chris Heuertz wrote something in his book, The Sacred Enneagram, that has really stuck with me. He wrote:
Stillness teaches us restraint, and in restraint we are able to discern what appropriate engagement looks like.
As someone passionate about social justice, and who longs to see redemption and restoration in society and culture, I have learned that stillness is such a beautiful gift to the spiritual life. It is a gift because it helps me to remember that true transformation comes through Jesus. We can make plans and execute them with the greatest zeal, but to be quiet and learn how to step aside and allow the Lord to speak into, and guide, our longings for a changed world – when we do that, we will begin to see that the change that He wants to accomplish in the world starts inside of us.
To practice stillness, setting time to intentionally be still is where it starts. Because, as I mentioned in my post on cultivating silence, you can be silent on the outside, but not necessarily on the inside. Likewise, being still isn’t just not moving your body, but rather resting: stopping the to do lists in our head, and letting it go.
Creating space to be still
Create space to be still: put down your plans and agendas for a period of quiet – a time of just being.
Find a quiet place.
Take a deep breath.
Invite the Lord’s presence and pray for the grace to experience His peace in the stillness.
When thoughts come into your mind, gently surrender those things to the Lord.
Rest and be silent. Don’t feel that you need to move on. *Setting a timer sometimes aids in not having to think about time if you’re on a schedule.
Questions to think about:
What are some ways that you experience stillness?
Where are some places where you more naturally experience stillness?
When you are still, what are some of the thoughts that come into your head?
What are some of the feelings that you experience? (You may want to dialogue with the Lord about them, and maybe share them with a Spiritual Director or mentor.)
Blessings as you experience stillness in the presence of God.