This Sunday as I preached, I stayed close to the text of Exodus 24-- the story of Moses' sitting with God and being surrounded by God's glory so that he could receive the law. Though there were many ways I could go with the text, verse 16 is what I couldn't get off my mind.
"The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days.”
Can you imagine it? Moses sitting for 6 days before the Lord with nothing else going on but just waiting on something to happen! Six whole night and days. If you count it up that would be 144 hours. 8,640 minutes. 518,400 seconds. What a long time!
I have not.
However, when I try to take intentional Sabbaths, turning off my phone (gasp, I know!), not making plans with friends it's ALWAYS harder to disconnect than I think. On these days, I often start making lists in my head of what I will do when it over! And if it gets really bad, I trade in mediation for counting the minutes until I can get up. When can I talk again is what I want to know . . .
Anybody with me on this?
Henri Nouwen, Catholic priest and spirituality teacher, in the book Inner Voice of Love writes this about this tendency: “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 ....”
I loved what Nowuen offers because he goes on to remind us that: “God wants to dwell in our emptiness.” We don’t have to bring a thing to be with God. We just have to show up for it and allow the Spirit to help us be still.
And as we are still:
It’s about letting go of fear—the fear of all of the what ifs?
It’s about letting go of shame—oh what will so and so think of they saw how I was spending my time!
It’s about letting go of what we’ve constructed around us: comfort foods, normal routines and making plans for next summer and beyond . . .
Want to give it a try?
It might be as simple as turning off the radio on the car and not making phone calls while you're driving. Just being still.
It might be as simple as telling your kids or grandkids that you've put yourself into "adult time out" for a while and you'll check in with them later. Just being still.
It might be as simple as going to your garden alone to plant, weed and water. Just being still.
For me, it's as simple as going to a particular place. It's my place to be still.
I love our oversized green chair in a my room surrounded by my favorite books with a great view of the trees in the yard from the second floor. As I sit and gaze at the trees out the windows I feel like I’m in a little treehouse made just for me. I love going to this chair as many mornings as I can (though not too early). If I'm alone in the house, I often bring my breakfast to this chair. I sometimes read, sometimes write but often am just still with no agenda. I especially love how the brightness of the morning light finds me in the winter time.
It’s often a battle to get myself there (for as much as I love it) because my spirit fights the urge to think it’s not important.
But, in my heart, I know it’s the only way for my communion with God. And I know finding a quiet place is only way for you too.
Can we live with out it? Sure we can. Will God still love us if we're busy all the time? Of course. But without finding quiet, we won’t know God the way God wants to really know us!
And I couldn't have said it any better myself. May God teach us to be still.
Over the past several months, I found myself with more silent and uninterrupted time than I've ever experienced before in my life.
After a couple of months of finding myself with more time than I expected, the temptation was to "just do something." To fill the space with more books to read, more coffees to have with new friends and old friends alike, and more trips to take. Maybe start or learn a new hobby? Maybe get a part-time job just for the fun of it? More of something to fill the void of time that used to be offered to the church.
Sure there were things to do like finish my book manuscript which would fulfill my commitment to the Louisville institute, events to attend connected to my husband's job and the usual of keeping up with house chores and the never-ending pile of mail that always seems to need attention on my desk.
But, still even with all of this "doing" there was plenty of silence left. Still there was quiet. Still even with all of the coffee dates and lunches I could muster energy up to attend, there has been just me. Alone. In quiet. Making friends with this state of being called solitude.
There have been days when I've loved it, savoring every minute.
There have been days I counted the minutes until I could go to bed at night.
There have been days when all I wanted was a friend to call and rescue me from the void that is life in my living room alone.
But the silent beat has gone on.
And this is what I've learned: silence, even as much as we all fight it, is not going to kill us. Nope. It hasn't killed me. Well sometimes it might have felt like it would, but it didn't. And I don't think it will.
Silence has been God's great transformational gift that my busybody soul has needed.
One of the authors I read in seminary but have become fascinated with again the past couple of months is Roberta Bondi. I've loved reading her again because of her focus the desert fathers and mothers of the 4th century who retreated to find solitude. And Bondi writes about what made them tick, how they related to their fellow silent pilgrims, and most of all what they learned about prayer as a result.
As I've stuck close to her book, To Pray and To Love again, I've been reminded that the Spirit often does the best work in us when we surrender to the quiet.
Bondi makes a case for such by saying that when the distractions of our lives are stripped away we have no one or no thing to blame for our laziness, our moodiness, our impulses, or our addictions than the brokenness that is within us. In solitude we realize that life is not about our jobs, our families or even our own ambitions for the future.
Rather, life is about us and God. Life is about all of life flowing out of God's great love for us. Life is dance card full of great opportunities designed just for us to soar.
But only in silence would we know this.
Only in silence would we have eyes to see these things.
And, only when we say no to the temptation of adding just one more thing to our plate do we make room for God.
Life filled with God is worth fighting for even as the hours of silence continue on. At least for now.
I imagine I'm coming to emerge from this season with insights I could have not gained any other way!