Be Still!

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? 

Being still!

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!

The Word Conspired

It was ten years ago this spring that I finished my first seminary theological final exam. For me, it was a pivotal semester and exam. A year earlier, I entered seminary without a clear understanding of where God was leading me. I often question whether the calling was true or whether it was an egotistic, self-centered initiative. After finishing the exam, Lynda and I headed to Galveston for a mini-vacation. I remember our discerning talks as we walked the beach. We concluded that this seminary thing was indeed a true calling from God.

With God’s help, I was certain I had “aced” the final. One of the questions concerned the “Threefold Word of God”. The concept was one that Karl Barth held to: preaching (or proclamation), scripture, and revelation are considered to be three different, yet unified forms of the Word of God. Barth’s analogy was the Trinity. God has revealed Godself in the Written Word of Scripture; in the Word That Became Flesh, in the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and the Word Proclaimed in preaching and the witness we all called to. It was a theological concept that the Spirit sealed in my heart and would become central to my faith. So much so, that it continues today as the basis for the Prayer of Illumination that I recite in worship.

Today, the Threefold Word of God was put to the test as I began a three-month sabbatical given to me by my congregation. Of the many goals that I desire to accomplish during this time is to re-engage with the Almighty in a more intimate relationship; one that seemed more closer than before I became ordained. Like the Threefold prayer I recite, I profess to my flock the need to have a personal relationship with God, but like other preachers, we aren’t often the best examples of our sermons. Four years of seminary studying the Word and then seven years of preaching the Word has seemed to lead me astray in truly embracing the Word.

Why?

I’m not certain, but I know from conversations from clergy colleagues that this tendency is not unique to Rev. Charlie P.

My prayers to God prior to the start of this sabbatical journey were to “awaken my spiritual being and draw me closer.”

God answered my prayer this morning with a tremendous clash of thunder at exactly 4am. Not certain if all God’s children in Albuquerque were awaken, but I was! I pled for another hour of merciful rest. The goodness of God again was divinely exhibited as Merciful God triggered the snooze button to 5am.

A goal over the next three month sabbatical is to once again read the entire Bible. But, unlike the three other Bible-in-90-Days readings, I wanted this one to have greater reflection with note taking and questioning. So after “In the beginning…”, I noted again the goodness of God’s creative order. Then, in Genesis 2:7, I highlighted that “God breathed into the nostrils (of Adam) the breath of life.”

God Breathed!

Have I ever really embraced this gift?

For me, I began to realize that my spiritual void has recently lacked God’s breath. Not that God didn’t breathe; I just didn’t accept it. God gave me life and I live each day by taking a breath. But have I breathed the Word of God? In my limited theological scope, far inferior to Karl Barth, I now believe the Word of God is Fourfold.

The Word Breathed!

We must “breathe” the Word in order for God’s Word to rest in our hearts. We can easily study the Word; we can readily and faithfully accept Jesus as the Word that Became Flesh; and we can obediently hear and proclaim the Word; but unless we breathe the Word, our relationship to God is vastly incomplete.

Today at a conference I’m attending, Conspire 2015, I learned from the conference host, Father Richard Rohr, that the word conspire comes from the Latin “to take-in” or more simply, “to breathe”.

Therefore, The Word Conspired.

Have you conspired with the Almighty today?

Blessings,

Reverend Charles Packard