In the Quiet Solitude And Stillness

“May today there be peace within.

May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.

May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.

May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.

May you be content knowing you are a child of God.

Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.

It is there for each and every one of us” (Teresa of Ávila).

I love hiking the trails at Radnor Lake State Park. I love how I can travel less than 30 minutes from where I live and enter a completely different world where nature has full sway and the noises of civilization seem a million miles away.

Often I feel as though silence is the best kind of language for such a place. Words seem to profane such a sacred place, so I try to talk less and listen more.

I’m trying to be more attentive to my surroundings when I’m on one of the trails. I’m still not very good at taking in everything, but I’m learning more and more how to see rather than just look.

That’s the key to life. Sometimes, what you need is to be silent and still. You need to step away from the hurried rat-race and the voices telling you, “Faster! Faster! More! More!”

I think the best places to do that are the places that are closest to the original Garden of Eden, places with the least amount of man-made noise and pollution and the most nature.

Be still. Be quiet. And listen. Just as Elijah had to strain his ears to hear the still small voice of God, so we sometimes need to be silent and still to hear God speaking.

God is still speaking.

A Quote that Punched Me in the Face

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak for me” (Martin Niemöller).

Martin Niemöller was a German pastor during the Nazi regime. According to what I read, he spent the last seven years of their reign in concentration camps.

I found this quote when I was scrolling through the saved websites on my phone. It did almost feel like a punch to the face. It reminded me that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere and silence in the face of injustice amounts to consent and approval of it.

I’m left asking the question: Who do I need to speak out for?

A better question is this: Who do I know that doesn’t have a voice that I’m not speaking out for?

Who will speak out for me if I don’t speak out for them?

 

 

Being a Pray-er

I really believe some people have the spiritual gift of prayer.

I think that when some people go to pray, it’s as if words other than their own come pouring out and every word seems anointed and filled with power.

I know someone like that. He’s one of the fellow Kairos greeters that I’ve been blessed to get to know recently and he definitely has the gift of prayer.

Not everyone has that gift. Not everyone is as eloquent and poetic when they pray. But we’re all called to pray unceasingly in every situation.

I’ve come to believe that some of the best prayers come from people who aren’t the best pray-ers. Some of the best prayers don’t have words.

Sometimes, it’s prostrating yourself on the floor and opening up your hands in a gesture of complete surrender.

Sometimes, it’s silence and tears when the words won’t come.

Sometimes it’s a simple two-word mantra repeated over and over, such as “Help me, help me, help me” or “Thank you, thank, you thank you.”

Sometimes it’s sitting in adoration and basking in the glory of God without asking for anything at all.

You may not consider yourself a good pray-er, but you can still pray. You are still called to pray, no matter how fluent you are or whether you stumble all over yourself when asked to pray in public.

All that you need to pray is a sincere heart and a simple faith. That’s it.

That said, I still love to hear people pray who have the gift of prayer. I knew a guy in Memphis who had as dramatic a testimony as I’ve ever heard, and when he opened his mouth to pray in a group setting, the Spirit moved. He prayed with more authority and confidence in God’s sovereignty than I have ever heard from anybody else.

But I think the prayers that impresses and touches the heart of God the most are the ones you and I pray every morning and every night with a childlike trust and dependence that God is absolutely able to do whatever we ask of Him. Those are His favorites.

The Space Between the Words

“The spirit lives in the space between the words. The danger in becoming too wordy is that we miss the space between the words” (Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day).

I often think about something I learned in one of my advertising classes at Union University. The key when you’re creating an ad is not to cram in as many words and images as possible onto a flyer or a brochure. People would be overwhelmed by all the information hitting them all at once, and thus be highly unlikely to actually read the ad.

White space in an ad is extremely important in allowing the eye to rest and emphasizing the words and images.

Most of us live our lives at such a frenetic pace, trying to fill every possible space with words and activity and doing. No wonder so many of us feel like we’re running in place, exerting a great deal of energy but not really moving any place.

It’s vitally important to create margins in our lives. Those are the white spaces where we find rest. It’s also crucial to embrace silence and stillness not as enemies of our productivity but as allies in our quest to work and play smarter and not just harder.

How can any of us hear God speak if we leave no space between our words and our deeds? How can any of us grow into the grace of God apart from margins and boundaries?

No one naturally gravitates toward silence and stillness. Most of us will, left to our own devices, trend toward the tyranny of the urgent instead of nurturing and caring for what is most important– our communion with our Maker.

“When all the sheep have been gathered, [The Good Shepherd] walks on ahead of them; and they follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4, The Voice).

Return to Radnor

I returned to Radnor Lake State Park. Sure, it was hot and sticky. Combine that with my propensity for sweating and the result is usually not pretty. But I didn’t care.

I was in my Walden Pond. I was in my safe haven.

I trekked down my favorite trail and then added about an hour’s worth of walking. I put in about 2 1/2 hours of walking, totaling just under 6 miles. I should sleep good tonight.

My favorite part is the silence. I don’t mean the total and complete absence of sound but the absence of the usual noise and clamor I hear for the greater part of my day. All I heard around me were the subtle sounds of nature.

The thought occurred to me as I was walking that the silence around me was sacred and to disturb it would be profane. So many people in this day and age are almost afraid of silence, filling their lives with nonstop noise and ceaseless clamor. I believe that silence can be the empty space where the words of God fill in, where my heart is finely tuned to hear what He’s been saying to me all along in all my busyness, hustle and bustle, ceaseless clanging noise.

I didn’t see as many critters this time. Perhaps they’re just as weary of the heat and humidity as I am. Maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right places. I’ve been known to not always be the most observant person.

I’m still game for living in Thoreau’s Walden Pond, even if that means taking a break from all things electronic. Some days, I could use that break to restore my calm.

PS I got my steps in (and then some). I ended up with 22,245 steps, or about 9.87 miles. No wonder my feet hurt.

 

Letting Go of Our Fear of God

“We are afraid of emptiness. Spinoza speaks about our ‘horror vacui,’ our horrendous fear of vacancy. We like to occupy-fill up-every empty time and space. We want to be occupied. And if we are not occupied we easily become preoccupied; that is, we fill the empty spaces before we have even reached them. We fill them with our worries, saying, ‘But what if …’

It is very hard to allow emptiness to exist in our lives. Emptiness requires a willingness not to be in control, a willingness to let something new and unexpected happen. It requires trust, surrender, and openness to guidance. God wants to dwell in our emptiness. But as long as we are afraid of God and God’s actions in our lives, it is unlikely that we will offer our emptiness to God. Let’s pray that we can let go of our fear of God and embrace God as the source of all love” (Henri Nouwen).

It’s one thing to be in awe of God and quite another to be afraid of Him and what He wants to do in your life. It’s one thing to be lazy and quite another to have margins in your schedule where you can be silent and still for long enough to see and hear God.

I am witness to so many who are so afraid of emptiness and silence that they run themselves ragged trying to fill every moment and every void with activity and noise. We need some silence for our mental well-being. We need down time and rest for our own sanity.

Many of the men and women of faith that we look up to prized that silence and stillness to the degree that they made it a priority in their lives and put aside noble and worthy activities to sit at the feet of Jesus.

My hope and prayer through the remainder this season of Lent is that I will learn to fill up the void of social media with a holy emptiness where God has room to come in and fill all the spaces and speak in all the silences.

 

The Five Longest Minutes

I tried an experiment on my second visit of the evening to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. I set the timer on my phone for five minutes, and I spent five minutes in silence, not reading anything, not saying anything, not looking my phone. It was just me sitting in a pew in semi-darkness for five minutes.

Five long minutes.

It’s amazing how society has conditioned us to need almost constant stimuli from the radio, television, tablets, internet, and smart phones. Our attention span is so much shorter than it was even twenty years ago.

It’s good for the soul to be silent.

I think of it like rebooting a computer every so often. It helps it to run more smoothly and to reset the equilibrium when things get a bit off-kilter.

We need rebooting periodically. That’s what silence and meditation are for.  That’s what prayer and fasting are for. That’s why God instituted the Sabbath as a day of rest, although historically His people haven’t been very good at using that day for the purpose of which it was intended.

I’m not very good at any kind of silence. That five minutes seemed a lot longer to me than five minutes. It definitely seemed a lot longer than five minutes spent on Pinterest or Instagram. I’ve been known to waste way more than five minutes scrolling through the posts on Facebook at the end of the day.

Silence takes discipline, something that the culture around us seems to treat with disdain. You don’t see or hear many advertisements extolling the virtues of discipline and self-denial. Usually, it’s quite the opposite.

So there I was in that quiet space for five whole minutes, not saying anything, not reading anything, praying as I felt led. It was refreshing and soul-cleansing. I felt more relaxed and less anxious. I felt at peace with myself and with God.

I should probably do that more often.

 

Something That Spoke to Me

I read this yesterday and I’m still thinking about it. It’s what C. S. Lewis wrote after his wife died after battling cancer. What spoke to me so much wasn’t as much the grief (although I have known that all too well), but the part of not being able to hear God speak to you because you’re too frantic to listen. We’ve all at some point been stressed and overwhelmed to the point where we can’t hear what anybody else is saying to us, much less God.

Here’s what he said:

“Why has no one told me these things? How easily I might have misjudged another man in the same situation? I might have said, ‘He’s got over it. He’s forgotten his wife,’ when the truth was, ‘He remembers her better because he has partly got over it.’

Such was the fact. And I believe I can make sense out of it. You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears. You can’t, in most things, get what you want if you want it too desperately: anyway, you can’t get the best out of it. ‘Now! Let’s have a real good talk’ reduces everyone to silence. ‘I must get a good sleep tonight’ ushers in hours of wakefulness. Delicious drinks are wasted on a really ravenous thirst. Is it similarly the very intensity of the longing that draws the iron curtain, that makes us feel we are staring into a vacuum when we think about our dead? ‘Them as asks’ (at any rate ‘as asks too importunately’) don’t get. Perhaps can’t.

And so, perhaps, with God. I have gradually been coming to feel that the door is no longer shut and bolted. Was it my own frantic need that slammed it in my face? The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it: you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs. Perhaps your own reiterated cries deafen you to the voice you hoped to hear.”

17 Days In

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I reported to you earlier that I had decided to give up not only Facebook, but all forms of social media this year for Lent. Obviously excluding WordPress.

It’s been 17 days (by my count) out of 46. So far, so good. I haven’t missed social media like I thought I would. In fact, most of the time, I don’t really even think about it much.

I’ve used my newfound free time in catching up on my reading and movie watching. On the book front, I’m currently reading Anne of the Islands (the third book of the Anne of Green Gables series– don’t judge) as well as diligently reading through The Voice translation of the Bible (I’m up to Isaiah 23).

Recently, I re-watched all the Harry Potter movies and remembered why I liked them so much the first time. Also, I was astounded all over again at how many incredible well-known actors they enlisted for these film adaptations of children’s books.

I find myself less anxious and more calm without social media. I do miss seeing what my friends post, but I also don’t miss checking to see who commented on my own posts (a bad habit that I still sometimes struggle with).

I’m still praying for more discipline and more willingness to create space and silence for God to speak to me. I’m praying for the ability to quiet my own mind and listen to that Still Small Voice that will never compete with my own noise.

That’s all I have for now. I’ll keep you posted for the remaining 29 days of Lent.

Things I Love 35: Just When You Thought It Was Safe To Get Back on the Internet . . .

island hammock

“That which tears open our souls, those holes that splatter our sight, may actually become the thin, open places to see through the mess of this place to the heart-aching beauty beyond. To Him. To the God whom we endlessly crave” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“God is good and I am always loved” (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

“The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up”  (Ann VoskampOne Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are).

Yeah, just when you thought I was done with this series, I resuscitate it and bring it back from the world wide graveyard. I’m not even close to being finished with all these thousand and more gifts I’ve received in my lifetime. It’s probably closer to 10,000. Actually, if I were completely honest, there’d be no way to count the blessings in my life for no human number goes that high. So I’ll do my best, starting at #1,036.

1,036) Yet more good coffee and conversation with another friend at Frothy Monkey (after a bit of confusion as to which Frothy Monkey).

1,037) When I stop comparing myself to others and instead compare myself to where I used to be.

1,038) Politically Correct Bedtime Stories.

1,039) Seeing my Romanian friend and sister-in-Christ happily married.

1,040) Rubbing my bare feet against carpet.

1,041) Not getting elbowed in the head or having my bare feet stepped on during volleyball games.

1,042) That possibly the best days and moments of my life are still yet to come.

1,043) Not getting counted off anymore for split infinitives.

1,044) Friends who actually make time to keep up with me and encourage me regularly.

1,045) All the old episodes of Are You Being Served?

1,046) Memories of watching TV as a kid with my uncle in the old camper on our property in Christiana.

1,047) That I’m not named after an airline.

1,048) Anticipating yet another Jonny Lang album coming out in September.

1,049) My gigantic over-the-ears headphones that I use to listen to music late at night sometimes.

1,050) Making up words when I don’t know the actual lyrics to a song.

1,051) Finding out what the actual lyrics are to a song I’ve been singing wrong all this time.

1,052) Just about any movie or TV show featuring Judi Dench.

1,053) Catching up with Union University classmates.

1,054) Ditto for Briarcrest classmates.

1,055) That God loves the crazy people as much as the “sane” ones.

1,056) The short spontaneous conversation I had with the girl named Rebecca who was reading that Mark Batterson book.

1,057) Every one of the 300+ pictures I took at the Set Free VBS this year.

1,058) Seeing those kids being prayed over and loved on and shown Jesus.

1,059) Every time the Kingdom of God takes back a person or a place from the kingdom of darkness.

1,060) Mastering the art of making pimento cheese.

1,061) Saying the words “pimento cheese.”

1,062) Classic devotionals by people like Oswald Chambers and Charles Spurgeon.

1,063) Bowling a game over 100.

1,064) Silence. Sometimes.

1,065) That even my fidelity to God is a gift from God (thanks to Thomas Merton for that one.

1,066) Friends who know the song in my heart and can sing it back to me when I’ve forgotten the words.

1,067) Any old Frank Capra movie.

1,068) Not being in a hurry all the time.

1,069) Knowing that I have an Advocate and Defender who pleads for me before the Throne of God.

1,070) Not nearly being close to finished with these lists.