The psalmist writes in Psalm 46:10 that Lord says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Of the three hallmarks of contemplative prayer, solitude, silence and stillness, it seems to me that the latter is the most difficult to embrace.
Stillness, a rather benign word until we try and put it in practice. Our lives today are tethered to a world which connects itself more wirelessly each day. Not many years ago, one would take a jet coast to coast for five plus hours with only the company of a newspaper, inflight magazine, or a book that was brought on board. Having a jet with one of those half dozen or so music/comedy stations was a treat for our restlessness. Soon there were telephones imbedded in the back of a seat, but to use such technology, one would pay dearly. Today, however, there are movies, television, games, the Internet and more awaiting a traveler who can’t sit still for even a half hour flight.
This morning, I find myself in such a restless situation as my long-anticipated train trip from Sacramento to Reno over the Sierra Nevadas is delayed almost five hours. Marking the time with patience will not be easy. The train station is a throwback to times gone by. Perhaps God is winking at my blog and calling me to practice what I preach.
When the psalmist affectionately spoke the words of the Almighty about our need to be still reflects the need for us to give total devotion to God. Too often our divine conversations are too brief because for us, there are planes to catch, trains to ride, and more technology than need to take precedence. The psalmist speaks of the sound of the roar of waters and shaking mountains, yet assures that God is present.
The same holds true today. God was, is, and always will be present.
As mentioned, three hallmarks of contemplative prayer are solitude, silence, and stillness. On his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs us to find solitude in our engagement with the Holy. “…when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place…” Being alone with God can certainly intensify prayer, but we often are in situations where we pray together corporately.
Such was evidenced this past week as I spent two days at the Monastery of Christ of the Desert. Seven times during the day, from 4am to 8pm, thirty plus monks and priests along with a half dozen guests, sat silently in prayer. One session, “Silent Prayer” was a half hour of complete silence with praying individuals, not in the solitude of one’s room or on a cliff overlooking the beauty of God’s creation, but together in the intimacy of a monastic church.
The sessions of prayer, especially the one devoted strictly to silent pray, were indeed void of traffic noise, cell phones, overhead jetliners and the like that have polluted silence. Just as I found that I could spiritually engage with God with others present, I also found that I could be silent for thirty minutes.
The hard part?
Our minds seem to be doing a non-stop jitterbug in such situations. We can go off and be alone. We can be silent. But, how can we slow down and be still?
It seems to me that without the disciplines of monastic life, the best that we can do is to carve out time each day and attempt to be still. Be it morning, noon, or night make your prayers to God to send the Spirit to calm you in your engagement. And by all means, then be silent. You cannot listen to the voice of God when you do all the talking.
Monks that we aren’t, if we practice each day a simple, disciplined prayer life, we will fulfill the one thing the Lord asks one thing of us in our encounter: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
May the Lord bless you and keep you!