Sunday, May 13, 2007
STILL WATERS . . . DEEP WATERS
He lets me rest in fields of green grass and leads me to quiet pools of fresh water.
A person's thoughts are like water in a deep well, but someone with insight can draw them. out.
Tremble with fear and stop sinning; think deeply about this, when you lie in silence on your beds. Offer the right sacrifices to the Lord, and put your trust in him.
Very early the next morning, long before daylight, Jesus got up and left the house. He went out of the town to a lonely place, where he prayed.
(Jesus said) 'How is it that you three were not able to keep watch with me even for one hour? Keep watch and pray that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.'
But when you pray, go to your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.
Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.
(Psalm 23:2;. Proverbs 20:5; Psalm 4:4-5; Mark 1:35; Matthew 26:40- 41; Matthew 6:6; Matthew 11:28 -- all GNB)
Any action of Jesus was preceded by prayer: first he had to be both rested and sure of God's will. Any prayer of Jesus was followed by effective action: preaching, teaching, healing, demonstrating to those with eyes to see the in-breaking of the kingdom of God.
The inner quiet that Jesus needed he offers to us. This inner quiet calls up the image of a deep rock pool high in the Blue Mountains, the placid clarity of fresh water, not the fetid stagnation of an old billabong. Inner quiet is no complacent acceptance of fate, no resignation in the face of hardship, no escape from the realities of life; it is a 'still point of the turning world' (T.S. Eliot), a creative and energising 'contemplation in a world of action' (Thomas Merton). In whatever ways we are called to our Lord's service, release from outer stress and 'inner strife' were never more needed than today. To find and nurture that inner resource of the Spirit is absolutely essential for effective ministry, for basic Christian discipleship.
Hesychasm, from the Greek word for quiet, stillness, tranquillity, refers to the way of prayer taught and practised in the Christian East from the fourth century on. More specifically it refers to prayer that is as far as possible free from concepts and the verbiage of discursive reason. It points us to contemplative prayer, seeking the kingdom within (compare with Luke 17:21), that state of being where Christ truly dwells in us (2 Cor 13:5).
In a narrower sense still, hesychasm refers to the use of the Jesus Prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,' and to the linking of the act of praying with the control of the act of breathing: that with every breath we may praise our Lord. Anthony de Mello's Sadhana: A Way to God, among other books, has given us access again to this ancient way of praying. The contemplatives of the Christian era have found in the Jesus Prayer a way of becoming quiet so that they can find a relationship with God at depth, and may be reshaped by it. It can become a tool for carving out an inner stillness so that the Spirit can be heard, and the conscious and unconscious dimensions of the mind harmonised. That deep stillness, with a place and time uncluttered by physical noise, emotional stress or cerebral musings, is where the Holy Spirit can create, renew, refresh and inspire.
Muddy water, Let stand, Becomes clear.
Lao Tse (Chinese philosopher, 5th Century BC),
Settle yourself in solitude and you will come upon him in yourself.
Teresa of Avila
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
T.S. Eliot, 'East Coker', III, Four Quartets
Words, after speech, reach Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern, Can words or music reach The stillness.
T.S. Eliot, 'Burnt Norton', V, Four Quartets
Elected Silence, sing to me And beat upon my whorled ear, Pipe me to pastures still and be The music that I came to hear.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, 'The habit of perfection', in A Selection of Poems and Prose
All is still and gentle as if all creation shares with tender empathy the last whisper of this dying day. The lights are low now, and everything is suspended as if waiting for some final word.
Bruce Prewer, 'Vespers by the Murray River', in Australian Prayers
Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of thy peace.
John Greenleaf Whittier
Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude... Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfilment. Solitude is not first a place but a state of mind and heart... There is an old proverb to the effect that 'the man who opens his mouth, closes his eyes!' The purpose of silence and solitude is to be able to see and hear.
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
To be calm and quiet all by yourself is hardly the same as sleeping. In fact, it means being fully awake and following with close attention every move going on inside you. It involves a self- discipline where the urge to get up and go is recognised as a temptation to look elsewhere for what is really close at hand... To pray means to open your hands before God. It means slowly relaxing the tension which squeezes your hands together and accepting your existence with an increasing readiness, not as a possession to defend, but as a gift to receive. Above all, therefore, prayer is a way of life which allows you to find a stillness in the midst of the world where you open your hands to God's promises, and find hope for yourself, your fellowman and the whole community in which you live.
Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands
Stillness and quiet, freedom from the demands of others, becoming inner-directed, these are not goals in themselves. They are steps on the way to learning the meaning of God's love for us. As one finds the reality of that love, it becomes possible to offer oneself to God in a mature way and to give some of the same love and understanding to others, self-giving love without strings attached... Whatever else it involves, one finds in this process of detachment and reattachment the meaning of being born again, of giving up an old life and being given a new one.
Morton T. Kelsey, The Other Side of Silence
Choose a suitable time for recollection and frequently consider the loving-kindness of God. Do not read to satisfy curiosity or to pass the time, but study such things as move your heart to devotion. If you avoid unnecessary talk and aimless visits, listening to news and gossip, you will find plenty of suitable time to spend in meditation on holy things.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
John Climacus of Mt Sinai in the sixth century said: 'When you pray do not try to express yourself in fancy words, for often it is the simple, repetitious phrases of a little child that our Father in heaven finds most irresistible. Do not strive for verbosity lest your mind be distracted from devotion by a search for words...' This is a very helpful suggestion for us, people who depend so much on verbal ability. The quiet repetition of a single word can help us descend with the mind into the heart. This repetition has nothing to do with magic... On the contrary, a word or sentence can help us to concentrate, to move to the centre, to create an inner stillness and thus to listen to the voice of God. When we simply try to sit silently and wait for God to speak to us, we find ourselves bombarded with endless conflicting thoughts and ideas. But when we use a very simple sentence such as 'O God, come to my assistance,' or 'Jesus, Master, have mercy on me,' or a word such as 'Lord' or 'Jesus', it is easier to let the many distractions pass by... [and] slowly empty out our crowded interior life and create the quiet space where we can dwell with God.
Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
Lord, I have many excuses ready for not finding the opportunity to be still, for not making the time to be quiet. I have high expectations of myself. I hear, sometimes too seriously, the expectations of others. I even blame you sometimes, thinking you want me to do more, for 'more's sake' alone. It's easier to read, or plan, or act, even easier to doodle or admire the view, than to stop and listen. I'm more accustomed to praying in thanks and in intercession than in adoration and submission. I bring you my baggage of activity: these are the things that make the waters muddy: may your Spirit move upon the waters and still them...
Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear,
Lord, I would be immersed in the tranquillity of your presence. I give you these minutes of solitary, concentrated prayer-in-your- presence. Shut out the distractions of noise and anxious thought. Relieve and relax the pressures of posture and the demands of the body. My very breathing I put under your command:
* that its intake may infuse me with your Spirit
* that its expulsion may signify my cleansing
* that its rhythm may match your vibrant rekindling of my deepest being.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me (to be repeated, in whole or in part, for the time allotted for silent prayer).
Go into the demands of the day released from inner strife and outer stress. After the quiet joy of encounter in the stillness, may the Holy Spirit remain an inner resource in the dullest routine and the greatest challenge.
The Lord bless you and keep you. Receive his peace. Amen.
Chapter 8 in Rowland Croucher ed., Still Waters Deep Waters (Albatross/Lion)