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The Five S’s to a God Experience

 Be still, and know that I am God! Psalm 46:10a

Over the past few weeks I have covered a few states of being that put us in a position of least resistance to experience God’s presence. They are silence, stillness, solitude, simplicity, and surrender. Interestingly, none of these are typically emphasized in most church services. While churches teach about God, which is a worthy purpose, they are generally not well equipped to lead us to an experience of God. In fact, a church characterized by these five traits would probably shutter its doors quickly from lack of attendance and funding. Many churches do, however, have beautiful spaces that may be conducive to one or more of these qualities – silence, stillness, and solitude, in particular – but likely not during an actual worship service. Nature provides excellent spaces to seek God’s presence. A quiet corner of a home suffices, too.

These five traits are not common elements in our everyday lives either. In fact, an excess of any makes others worry about us. Is it any wonder we often feel so far from God, when neither our daily lives nor our churches provide the conditions most likely to awaken us to God’s ever-present nature? I summarize the five practices below in order to contain them in one place. For additional thoughts on each, check out previous posts on my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com.

Silence

We often confuse the silence of inactivity with the deep silence from which God creates. We cannot simply turn off the television and our mobile devices and expect to find silence. Silencing the noise from our external world is one thing; silencing our internal world is the greater challenge. It is through this latter type of silence that we find entry into the rich moments of our lives, being present to the creative potential and creating reality happening at all times and in all places. True silence provides a blank slate from which to co-create our lives with God.

Stillness

Like silence, stillness has an external and an internal manifestation. Just because there is calm in our external environment does not mean there is stillness within. When our internal dialogue continues to judge and criticize, we are not still. When we rehash past regrets and energize feelings of guilt and inadequacy, we are not still. When we review the things we have yet to accomplish today, we are not still. Stillness cannot occur when our mind strays outside of the moment. It is nearly impossible to experience God when we are distracted.

Solitude

Being in solitude means being free of unavoidable distractions, meaning our only distractions are self-created. Our minds may still wander, but an act of will can bring them back into the moment. Solitude provides a perfect setting for entering the moment, which is the only place we can encounter God. One reason many of us feel so distant from God is that we live in a perennial state of out-of-the-momentness.. The type of solitude that offers the least resistance to a God experience is a four-in-the-morning type of solitude, as if the only other person conscious with us is God.

Simplicity

A simple life is one where there is freedom to do what calls to us in the moment. Granted, most lives are too busy to drop everything to answer to the whims of the moment, but a simple life has the freedom to do so at least on occasion. Our possessions and our relationships, useful and beautiful as they may be, draw us away from simplicity. Finding time and space to just be, unencumbered and undistracted, is vital to enhancing our awareness of God’s presence.

Surrender

Far from a sign of failure, surrender is a necessary part of a spiritual life. We are not all-knowing. Our plans are not always the best way to get to where we wish to go, nor is where we wish to go always a good place for us to be. Being open to God’s guidance, as well as that of trusted teachers and mentors, is not surrender as in giving up, but is surrender in the sense of trusting in and submitting to the wisdom of another.

I do not claim these are the only ways to experience God. No doubt, there are other ways, but silence, stillness, solitude, simplicity, and surrender are reoccurring themes of contemplative authors since before the time of Jesus to the present day. What they share in common is they invite us outside of our comfortable state of being in order to allow something new to emerge.

This is the 13th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

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Finding Solitude

 For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. Psalm 52:1,5

To be in solitude is to be alone – really alone. Solitude may happen by a personal choice, or it may be forced upon us. Either way, we find ourselves alone. Aloneness can have a couple of different manifestations, too. We can be alone because there are no other persons around. We can also be alone because we do not speak the same language as or have little in common with those around us.

For most of us, being in extended solitude is an uncomfortable experience because it is unfamiliar. We are used to being around other people – spouses, family, roommates, co-workers, neighbors, or fellow students. It could be the noise of a television, music, feet shuffling across the floor, or a muffled conversation from the other side of a wall, but we get used to the constant din of having others nearby. The downside of being around others, although it mostly floats beneath our conscious awareness, is that we often judge ourselves when others are near – am I dressed appropriately? Am I contributing appropriately to the conversation? Is my music too loud? Do others find me as dull as I sometimes find myself? Our internal dialogue measures our current state of being against some imagined expectation of others. There is tremendous pressure in being around others, most of it extremely self-critical, making it nearly impossible to relax and just be. When was the last time we felt secluded enough to dance naked without fear of anyone seeing or judging us for it? Maybe not since I was one have I felt that uninhibited and free.

Being in solitude means being free of forced distractions. For example, some of the clatter around us is too loud or too engaging to ignore. In solitude, however, our only distractions are self-created. Our minds may still wander to the flippant remark we unthinkingly made last week, but by an act of will we can bring ourselves back into the moment. Solitude provides a perfect setting for entering the moment, wherever we happen to be. The reason many of us feel so far from God is that we live in a perennial state of out-of-the-momentness. In other words, we have our attention focused in the past, future, or otherwise away from where we are right now. God, however, is only accessible in the present. Jesus told us many times and in many ways that the kingdom of God/heaven is near.[1] We cannot enter it when we are outside of the moment.

Being mindful of our moments is not easy. We, particularly in the West, have too many distractions and too many earthly obligations. Making the time and finding a place to sit in solitude, being silent and still, is hard. The first and most important requirement is to get our attention out of our heads – to stop thinking, judging, assessing, planning, and regretting. Most of our regular mental activity focuses our awareness to the past or future and draws us out of the moment. When we are in the moment, we experience the information coming through our senses in real time. The saying, Stop and smell the roses, is an invitation into the present. Just pausing for a quick whiff before going about our business, however, accomplishes little – that is another form of praying with one eye open. We need to engage our noses, yes, but we also need to gaze intently at the detail in the petals, leaves, and stems. See how they reach to the sun, and listen for the breeze singing within them. With a finger, trace the veins of the petals and leaves. By appreciating and acknowledging its unique features, we get to know this being called Rose. This is a moment with another of God’s amazing creations, and we share it without judgement, without condemnation, and without assessing the need to trim the rose.

Whether we chose it or not, solitude provides an opportunity to experience the moment with God, whenever and wherever that moment occurs. It allows God to experience God’s creation through us while allowing us to connect with God in us.

Clearing[2] (Martha Postlewaite)

Do not try to save

the whole world

or do anything grandiose.

Instead, create

a clearing

in the dense forest

of your life

and wait there patiently,

until the song

that is your life

falls into your own cupped hands

and you recognize and greet it.

Only then will you know

how to give yourself

to this world

so worthy of rescue.

 

This is the 9th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

 Prefer to listen? Subscribe to Life Notes Podcasts at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/life-notes-podcast/id1403068000

[1] Matthew 3:2, 4:17, 10:7; Mark 1:5; Luke 10:9, 10:11, 21:31.

[2]https://wildandpreciouslife0.wordpress.com/2013/06/20/clearing-by-by-martha-postlewaite/

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How Did I Miss That?

Part 2: Alone Time is Important

And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:5-6

Growing up, I learned to pray in community. My father prayed before family meals, and our pastor led us in prayer at church. Of course, the Lord’s Prayer, spoken collectively, was a common fixture in worship. There was also a prayer at bedtime, spoken with a parent, that went,

        Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep;

        If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I remember sitting in church as a child wondering how the preacher could possibly think of so much to pray about. The prayers seemed to drone on, and it was very difficult to remain focused. I kept my eyes clamped shut as long as I could, afraid someone might catch me peeking. Prayer was not very comforting in those days.

I am not certain when I learned to pray by myself, but however it happened, time alone with God quickly became my favorite method of prayer. I am an introvert, so time alone is a necessary part of my life. Jesus modeled this for us. Many times in the Gospels, he goes off alone to pray. Like spending time with a close, intimate friend, words are not always necessary in prayer. In fact, I find more of my prayers as I age to be of the silent type. I have no idea what I would say to God that God does not already know better than I can put into words. Being in God’s presence is more than enough. In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought.” I find this to be true. In his first letter to the church at Thessalonica, Paul writes, “Pray without ceasing.” This seems to be an encouragement toward wordless prayer – staying in communion with God at all times, but not necessarily with words. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel always. When necessary, use words.” This applies to prayer, too. We can remain in constant contact with God without all the dialogue. In fact, our dialogue makes it impossible to hear what God might be trying to tell us.

My point is not that we should always pray silently. Rather, alone-time with God is important. We need worry less about what we say and more about being present. Whether in meditation, contemplation, reflection, yoga, or any number of other methods, a quiet mind ignites our awareness of God’s presence. If Jesus needed quiet, alone-time with God in order to center himself, recharge, and reconnect in the days prior to television and the internet, think how much more we need it today.

Alone time with God is important. How did I miss that?

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