Stillness And Quietness Bring Strength
Be still and know that I am God. Tremble with fear and stop sinning; think deeply about this when you lie in silence on your beds.
How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! When I awake, I am still with you.
Jesus stood up and commanded the wind, 'Be quiet!' and he said to the waves, 'Be still!' The wind died down, and there was a great calm.
You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them. You calm the roar of the seas and the noise of the waves; you calm the uproar of the peoples. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall want nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, and leads me beside the waters of peace.
He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation; in stillness and in staying quiet, there lies your strength.'
(Ps.46:10, RSV; Ps.4:4, GNB; Mark 4:39, GNB; Ps.139:17,18b, NIV; Ps.89:9, NIV; Ps.65:7, GNB; Ps.23:1-2, NEB; Ps.107:29, NIV; Is.30: 15, NIV, NEB)
We spend most of our lives, said Evelyn Underhill, conjugating three verbs: to want, to have and to do. But none of these verbs has any ultimate significance until it is transcended by and included in the fundamental verb, to be.
The culmination of our being, according to the New Testament, is 'union with Christ'. Not justification by faith, sanctification in the Spirit, or even reconciliation with the Father. These are spiritual means to the great end of my 'living, yet not I, but Christ living in me' (Galatians 2:20). 'The one who is united to the Lord,' says Paul, 'becomes one spirit with him' (1 Corinthians 6:717). So what is to be my desire?. In practical terms, as The Cloud of Unknowing suggests, it is neither what you are nor what you have been that God sees with his all-merciful eyes, but what you desire to be. The life of the Christian is a love affair, a life of love given freely in response to the Father's love. Thus the main aim of prayer is to know God through love: 'affective knowledge'.
How does that happen?. Paul,describing his 'beatific vision', tells his Corinthian friends how it came -- fourteen years ago, he says -- and passed (2 Corinthians 12:1-10). He had, then, an experience of God which was very precious, and heard divine secrets he was not at liberty to reveal. However, the 'normal Christian life' is rather the daily affair of a soldier's hardships, an athlete's training, a farmer's toils (2 Timothy 2:1-6).
So knowing God through love involves obedient sacrifice, or, to change the metaphor, the spiritual baptism of all we are, and do, and think.
The analogy of water is a marvellous one for our meditation in this regard. Water is the stuff of life: if you're buried alive during an earthquake, its presence or absence is crucial. Saints were made -- in biblical times and since -- in waterless wildernesses. But even in water-full seas -- where water is everywhere but not a drop to drink -- angels may minister to us. Water can be a blessing or a curse, a life-giving or destructive force; it may quench our thirst or ruin our landscape. It is essential for our survival and yet may sometimes terrorise us. God 'who is present in all his works though still unseen' (Justin Martyr) is with us when waves and billows threaten us or when we enjoy the tranquillity and peace of 'the still waters'.
But our friendship with God is not an end in itself. We are called to service as well as to piety. We are shaped in our communion with the Father so that the world may experience his glory in these frail human vessels. Although 'there is only one sorrow, not to be a saint', a saint, like cathedral windows, is someone the light shines through. A saint is useful, as well as decorative. Saints love not just humanity but persons. They are God's saving agents in the world: wounded healers, incarnating the love of God among those who are being threatened in the storms of their lives.
Silence is the simple stillness of the individual under the Word of God... We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God... 'Seek God, not happiness' is the fundamental rule of all meditation. If you seek God alone, you will gain happiness: that is its promise... Prayer [ought] to be guided by the word of the Scriptures... in this way we shall not become the victims of our own emptiness.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Be still and know that I am God. 'Let be,' reads a marginal notation, but in a colloquialism we have it even more clearly: 'Relax'. Psychology has something to say about the relationship of relaxation to sanity, and the familiar exhortation is rendered in the Vulgate, Vacate, et videte. Indeed, the treatment of minds broken by the cataclysms of earth, and the inhumanity, fancied or real, of one's fellows, demands relaxation as the first step in therapy. 'Give place and see!'
Edwin McNeill Poteat, The Interpreters Bible
You must turn to him, the Lord, with all your heart... if your soul is to find rest. Christ is ready to come to you, with what kindness in his glance! But you must make room, deep in your heart, to entertain him as he deserves. Where he finds someone whose thoughts go deep, he is a frequent visitor; such pleasant converse, such welcome words of comfort, such deep repose, such intimate friendship, are well-nigh past belief.
Up with you, then, faithful soul, get your heart ready for the coming of this true Lover... You must make room for Christ and shut the door upon all intruders.
Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
Silence [is]... a gift, one which is 'promising' in the true sense of the word. The promise of this silence is that new life can be born. It is this silence which is the silence of peace and prayer, because you are brought back to the other who is leading you. In this silence you lose the feeling of being compulsive and you find yourself a person who can be himself along with other things and other people.
Then you realise that you can do many things, but it isn't necessary. It is the silence of the 'poor in spirit', where you learn to see your life in its proper perspective. In this silence, the false pretences fade away and you can see the world again with a certain distance, and, in the midst of all your cares, you can pray with the psalmist:
If Yahweh does not build the house, in vain the masons toil; if Yahweh does not guard the city, in vain the sentries watch. (Psalm 127)
Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands
For the first time, Alain tells me the words he has repeated to himself over and over again for many years: 'Jesus my joy, my hope, my life.'
Brother Roger of Taize, The Wonder of a Love
Even if a man is deeply versed in the understanding and knowledge of all spiritual things ever created, he can never by such understanding come to know an uncreated spiritual thing... which is none else than God!... That is why St Dionysius said, 'the most godlike knowledge of God is that which is known by unknowing'.
The Cloud of Unknowing
'Attend' and 'obey': these two principles underlie all Christian sanctity.-. absorbing attention and utter obedience. The saints attend to God. There is no instance of one great in sanctity who was not great in prayer... Holiness can never be an aim in itself... The saints do not set out for ethical perfection. They set out for God. They gaze on God in love and longing. Sanctity is given by God to those who want nothing but himself, and who know no higher bliss than just to be with him.
Not only do the saints attend to God. They obey him - utterly, instantly, gladly. They will one will with him. 'Do not consult me' they say in effect: 'Command me.' Well, those are the two basic principles of sanctity: attention and obedience. To those who were looking for something hidden and mysterious, they will seem simple to the point of absurdity. To those who say 'We knew it all the time', it will be enough to ask, 'How are you getting on in the practice of them?'
W.E. Sangster, The Pure in Heart: A Study in Christian Sanctity
Recollection opens our soul to heaven, but also to others. The contemplative life is the active life. This problem is somewhat artificial, says St Serapion. The real problem is that of the heart's dimension. Acquire inner peace and a multitude will find their salvation near you... This is an interesting statement. The saint does not say 'through' you but 'near' you.
Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Poustinia
Hear my prayer, 0 Lord; let not my soul faint under thy discipline, nor let me faint in confessing unto thee thy mercies, whereby thou hast saved me from all my most wicked ways till thou shouldst become sweet to me beyond all the allurements that I used to follow. Let me come to love thee wholly, and grasp thy hand with my whole heart that thou mayest deliver me from every temptation, even unto the last.
Thanks, thanks to thee, O Eternal Father, for thou hast not despised me, the work of thy hands, nor turned thy face from me, nor despised my desires. Having known the truth through thy clemency, I have found thy charity, and the love of my neighbour. What has constrained me?. Not my virtues, but only thy charity... Who can attain to thy greatness, and give thee thanks for such immeasurable gifts and benefits thou has given me...Thou hast been willing to condescend to my need and to that of thy creatures -- the need of introspection. Having first given the grace to ask the question, thou repliedst to it, and satisfiest thy servant, penetrating me with a ray of grace, so that in that light I may give thee thanks. Clothe me, clothe me with thee, O Eternal Truth, that I may run my mortal course with true obedience and the light of holy faith, with which light I feel that my soul is about to become inebriated afresh.
Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin
Be exalted, Lord, above the heavens, let your glory cover the earth. Keep our nation under your care, and guide us in justice and truth. Let your way be known on earth, your saving power among the nations. Send out your light and your truth that we may tell of your saving works. Hear our prayers, O Lord, for we put our trust in you.
An Australian Prayer Book
God of our fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob God of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ God of ocean storms and rippling creeks God of our ecstasies and of our mundane commonplaces, who, mysteriously, yearns for me, wants me, even 'needs' me...
Lord, it is not so much I who am seeking you, but you are seeking me.
You are the 'water of life', the source of serenity amidst turbulence, the great Creator of all the grandeurs of our world, Rescuer, Companion, Father, Provider.
Help me to love you above all else, to desire only you, and enjoy your gifts as an unexpected 'bonus ', to be pure in heart, so that I may 'see' you, to be ready for all your perfect will to be brother/sister to all I meet in this 'bent world', particularly those who cannot enjoy your good gifts, through poverty, hunger, sickness, oppression, ignorance or sin.
May God be in my whole being, before he is in my ministry. May God be in my heart as well as my head. May God be in my loving and my knowing and my willing and my speaking and my acting.
May I readily see Christ in others, And may my life be itself a benediction For your glory, Lord.
God the Father enrich you with his grace, God the Son make you holy in his love, God the Holy Spirit strengthen you with his joy. The Lord bless you and keep you in eternal life.
From Still Waters Deep Waters: Meditations and Prayers for Enrichment,Edited by Rowland Croucher, Albatross/Lion, 1987/1998, chapter one.