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Stillness is Golden

“Be still, and know that I am God,” wrote the psalmist some 3000 years ago. It’s an activity that’s even more relevant today, suggests Sue Tinworth, director of Stillspace, a program to reconnect people with their Maker.

Like jugglers, we toss facets of our lives in the air, at any moment vulnerable to a major crash. Schedules, commitments, responsibilities, regrets, fears and distractions climax in a multi-tasking nightmare. Sitting at lights, we process the meeting we’ve just left and make a phone call, but miss the magnificent formation of clouds above us. Or, we prepare dinner as we monitor the TV news all the while planning our evening, but miss connecting with a loved one and the longing behind the story they’re telling: “Sorry, I didn’t hear what you said.”

When we do listen to ourselves, when we rest, we’re likely to drown our deeper thoughts with phone calls, television or a newspaper. We may avoid solitude, silence and stillness because we fear being overwhelmed by the internal noise of resisted feelings and thoughts and the re-emergence of old pain. When we expend energy repressing our fears, we stay afraid and never know that their shadows exaggerate the scale of their threat.

Some of us have become human doings instead of human beings! We have full schedules, but miss the fullness of life. When we operate simultaneously in the past, present and future, we’re unable to appreciate the subtle beauty of the moment.

When we aren’t fully present, we’re like a jogger with headphones, missing the stranger’s smile, the panorama of light, the warmth of the sun, the distant birdcall, the sense of completeness and calm.

stay still!
So why is stillness and silence important? Through stillness, solitude and silence, we can increase our creative energy and originality, our sense of self and purpose, and our connection with the Divine. “My soul thirsts for God. . . . When can I go and meet with God?” (Psalm 42:2), laments the psalmist. “Be still, and know that I am God” (46:10).
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,” says Isaiah, “in quietness and trust is your strength” (30:15).

The state of stillness we seek is an internal state of peace. External stillness, solitude and silence can increase focus, contemplation and peace, but these are merely means for growth that will work more for some people, and more at some times than others. Inner stillness is sometimes aided by the external through rhythmic physical movement, such as walking, swimming or dancing, and through contemplation of a visual focus, such as a water feature, fireplace, candle flame or flower arrangement.

Our growing awareness of God’s character reveals our conscious and unconscious motivation and brings about powerful releases within us. Our submission to God’s intention leads us to transformational healing (see Romans 5:5; Ephesians 3:16; Galatians 5:22, 23; 2 Corinthians 3:18).

living fully
To start living fully, introduce stillness practices into your routine. Here’s how:

1. Be present to a simple, repetitive task, like washing dishes or eating a meal. Awaken to the sensory joy in the task: the textural touch on your skin, smells, colours, temperatures and rhythm in the movement, the purposeful meaning of the task. Be centred, grounded and deeply rooted, in a sense of meaningful reality at our core. Brother Lawrence (1611-91) modelled consciousness of God’s presence during daily tasks.

2. Luxuriate in 10 minutes of silent stillness in a natural setting, being entirely focused on the multisensory experience. Become aware of the texture you are sitting or walking on, sounds, the canopy of sky and trees above you. Such experiences can be enhanced when shared with a silent companion. We need to belong and to know our place in the world.

3. Close your eyes and allow the events of the day to stream past your consciousness. Notice the life-giving moments you missed and cherish them now: the warmth with which words were spoken, the beauty in a glimpsed scene, or the hope in someone’s eyes. Be aware of when energy drained from you; when your blood ran cold. Learn from this and release pain with tenderness and forgiveness. We are enriched when we learn to discern what is life-giving.

4. Set 10 minutes aside in a quiet place and read a meaningful passage—the Bible or poetry—slowly and reflectively. Read aloud and reread. Pause and allow thoughts to come passively to you. This is not an intellectual analysis exercise. Your stillness invites the Divine to reveal truth—fresh insight and revelation of the living Word—to you. (See 1 Corinthians 2:9-14; Hebrews 4:12.)

5. In a silent place, uninterrupted, spend 20 minutes contemplating the Divine—goodness, truth, love—being receptive to connect. Contemplation is essentially wordless, but its core cry is “I consent to Your presence and Your action within.” (See Psalm 139:1-4; Romans 8:26, 27.) Feel your hunger for connection with the Divine and express your adoration. God is waiting to connect with you (Revelation 3:20), but it may take some time for you to focus. If you are distracted by thoughts, let them float past you without following. One method, called “centring” prayer, encourages you to refocus on God by internally saying one of the names of God that you relate to. This can help you to be present to God again.

“Wordless prayer . . . is humble, simple, lowly prayer, in which we experience our total dependence on God and our awareness that we are in God. Wordless prayer is not an effort to ‘get anywhere,’ for we are already there [in God’s presence]. It is just that we are not sufficiently conscious of being there” (William Shannon, Silence of Fire, Crossroads, New York, 1991, page11).

true rest
People from many spiritual streams are embracing stillness. Sadly, Christians, in their flurry to do good works, may be the ones most likely to miss out on these life-giving practices modelled by Jesus and taught by the Bible and authors across time.
Rest—not striving, but surrendering in trust—is the essence of the good news of Jesus Christ. He has done all that is necessary to enable us to be in relationship with God (see John 3:16; 17:22, 23; Romans 3:22-25).

All we need to do is to accept this and rely on Him. Jesus modelled the practice of withdrawing in solitude to natural places for the purposes of prayer (see Luke 5:16; 6:12; 22:41; Matthew 14:13; John 8:1). Jesus invites us to rest, to receive His gift of inner peace and to live fully (see Matthew 11:28-30; John14:27; 10:10).

We too can have the inner peace of Thomas Kelly, who wrote while the world around him burned, “He who knows the Presence knows peace, and he who knows peace knows power and walks in complete faith that the objective Power and Love which has overtaken him will overtake the world.”

Bibliography and further reading:
David Benner, Surrender to Love. Discover the Heart of Christian Spirituality, Invarity Press, Illinois, 2003.
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, 1935.
Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water, HarperCollins, 1998.
Steve Fry, I Am: The Unveiling of God, Multnomah, Oregon, 2000.
Matthew Kelly, A Call to Joy. Living in the Presence of God, Hodder Headline Australia, 1997.
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion, Harper, San Francisco, 1941.
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Paraclete Press, Massachusetts, 1985.
Gerald May, The Awakened Heart: Opening Yourself to The Love You Need, Harper, San Francisco, 1991.
G Reininger (ed), Centering Prayer in Daily Life and Ministry, Continuum, New York, 1998.

Want to know more?

A journey toward meaning, wholeness and connection is an independent, non-denominational Christian ministry for God-doubters, God-seekers and full-on God-followers. Stillspace is where we soak in the manifest presence of God and progressively open up to receive the free flow of God’s lavish love, gradually accepting our new identity in Him, and becoming able to love our Lord with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.
Write to the author care of Signs Publishing Company if you require information on Melbourne-based Stillspace groups and personal prayer ministry.

The Labyrinth
This is a spiritual experience that invites you to be still and silent as you participate in progressive experiences integral to the spiritual journey.

This is an extract from
November 2004

Signs of the Times Magazine
Australia New Zealand edition.

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