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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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Creative Stillness

He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” Mark 4:39-40

One of the few Bible verses I ever successfully memorized as a child was the 23rd Psalm: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” This Psalm draws an analogy between the way a good shepherd watches over his sheep and the way God cares for us. The second verse reads, “…he leads me beside still waters.” Still waters are important for sheep as they need to drink, but can easily drown in a strong current. A good shepherd makes sure the water quenches the thirst of the sheep without stressing or endangering them. A lack of stillness stresses us, too. A hectic life feels like being sucked into a whirlpool, with no easy way to stop being pulled beneath the surface. Too often we become human doings instead of human beings. While it is important to complete the work that is ours to do, it is equally vital to seek regular stillness in order to renew ourselves. Too often, our schedules go out of control because we fail to recognize the importance of rest in our lives.

Like silence, stillness has an internal and external 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 only occurs in the moment and cannot occur when our mind strays outside of the moment.

Stillness is not the same as sleep, however. The opening verses of the Bible describe a scene of anticipatory stillness, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2). The earth was not inert; rather, the earth was waiting. There is a significant difference between stillness and inactivity. It is one thing to prepare for God to act in and through us but quite another to be lazy, slothful, or unmotivated. There is a heightened awareness and an invigorated aliveness to the stillness from which God creates. The earth may have been a “formless void,” and darkness may have “covered the face of the deep,” but there was tremendous energy waiting to be unleashed by God’s Word. When we seek God in stillness, there is a sense in which we surrender ourselves as a formless block of clay for God to shape and mold. We surrender, not in the sense of being squelched against our will, but to the excitement of knowing God will work in and with us to birth something new.

Many believe creation was a one-time event, thousands or billions of years ago. Creation, however, is a continuous occurrence with every new day and in each fresh moment. Our bodies completely remake themselves with new cells every few years. In spite of the cold, the trees outside my window are breaking bud, preparing for their spring rebirth. With an outside temperature in the teens, a cardinal was welcoming the sunrise this morning. Bluebirds have returned, striking a stunning contrast against the snow remaining on the ground. Life is not something that happened long ago and is now in a slow demise towards its ultimate death. No, new life is happening now! It is relentless and unstoppable. Everywhere and in every moment, creative energy lies in wait in the anticipatory stillness of winter or of darkness or of depression, illness, loneliness, or whatever hell we find ourselves in. Lurking beneath the misery and hopelessness is a spark waiting to be kindled into a flame to burst forth and rebirth itself from the ashes of the old. New life cannot wait to explode forth.

Seeking stillness in a busy life is challenging. Sometimes, such quiet time must be scheduled. A calm environment is helpful, but far more important is finding a time and space where we can sit quietly and disengage our mind and body from the activities of the day. Slow, deep, attentive breathing is always a good way to begin. Being still before God is not laziness. Being still before God prepares us for the next phase of creation, which is already welling up inside of us.

This is the 8th in the series of Life Notes titled, Praying With One Eye Open.

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Beyond Words

Be still, and know that I am God!  Psalm 46:1a

Be StillI am a man of too many words. I think in words, I speak in words, and, too often, I experience life through the filter of words. I attempt to capture beauty in words and in doing so I invariably lose much of the wonder I try to describe. There is a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. I experienced the sunset in this picture a couple of weeks ago at the Lake of the Ozarks. I would only detract from the splendor by trying to describe it. Even the picture does not capture the experience, however. A picture is a two-dimensional recreation of a single moment. A sunset occurs in four dimensions, the fourth being the 30 or so minutes it requires to manifest fully.

I enjoy using words to share the insights and wisdom I occasionally find. A part of me knows, however, that the more words I use, the farther I stray from the essence of what I attempt to share. Consider a finger pointing at the moon, where the moon is truth and the finger is its description. The purpose of the finger is to point, to lead others to experience the moon for themselves. Unfortunately, we too readily focus on the words – the finger – instead of the truth – the moon – to which they point. I fall into this trap regularly. I tell myself if I can only find the right combination of words, I will capture an experience for eternity. Certainly, the written word can be beautiful, inspiring, and artful. But words cannot capture the totality of a beautiful experience.

Words are symbols we create to represent something else. The word rock describes a part of creation. Adjectives can make it more precise: a small, smooth, round, brown rock. Even so, the rock and the description of the rock are not the same. We simply cannot capture reality in words. Reality is experiential, and words are just marks on paper. Like the sunset above, reality happens in space over a span of time. If we want a description of an experience, words are great. If we want the experience, however, we must be present. Words can lead us to believe we have experienced something we have only read about.

Saint Francis of Assisi, a 13th Century monk, wrote, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” In general, we talk too much, and our words can actually inhibit understanding. The Psalmist tells us to “Be still” if we wish to know God. We cannot find God in a dictionary. Neither does God live in books, including the Bible, even though that text is our primary resource for learning about God. We experience God by seeking and listening, not to the words of the voice in our head, but by responding to the pull on our heart. To find God, we must eventually move beyond words.

Come home to church this Sunday. Be still and know.

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