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Officially Shutting Up

This last week I have been trying to be more diligent about “getting quiet” before the Lord. That sounds lofty and spiritual but basically it means I have been just trying to shut up and listen.

I realized that when “praying” I am the annoying child that just won’t shut up. I keep talking and talking and talking. Amazing how I never run out of things to say, or maybe just whine and complain about. I am not the most gracious or grateful of children sometimes.

I sit and my mind whirls. How do you hear God? Now that’s a big question. A few years ago I read Dallas Willard’s take on the idea, in his book aptly named, Hearing God.  While contending that there are no formulas Willard believes that we can have a conversational relationship with God.

Willard reminds us that we have to start with very basic belief – that God still speaks today and he speaks to us individually. Once we reaffirm that belief we can begin the journey of “hearing” as we live a life in God’s will to notice the still small voice.  In I Kings 19:11-13 Elijah was in desperate need to hear from God. He was in a cave hiding from Jezebel, who wanted him dead.

” The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

There is lots to be learned in that passage but what stands out first is that God wasn’t found in the storm, earthquake or fire, but instead in the gentle whisper. You can’t hear until you get still.

I suck at being still. I want God to be loud, obnoxious and obvious. I’d like God to come in an email, text, a tweet or write me something on my facebook wall. But nope, he’s old-fashioned he wants our presence, the face-to-face conversation. Why is that so hard?

Ruth Haley Barton in her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, says that you have to order your life for God’s voice. We have to make room, allow for the still, small voice to break into our clutter and busyness. Her spiritual director told her she was like a jar of river water all stirred up and she needed to stop and let the sediment settle.

I love that imagery. I got some sediment and it is a swirlin’

What’s your sediment? Mine is figuring out what’s next in my life, finding a job, paying my bills while I don’t have job,  managing family drama, remembering who I am, holding onto my faith, remembering who God is, staying sane, not being a victim and finding joy.

She suggests setting aside time everyday, even if its just 10 minutes to sit and be still before God.

It’s an invitation to be still and sith the the longings of our heart, soul and mind. We have to let go of control, busyness, distractions and fear. We have to let ourself succomb to the desperation.

Oh now that is interesting. I hate the anxiety that builds in my soul when I don’t have a plan or the answers. I will do anything to avoid it. Trying to self-soothe in the middle of these situations get me in trouble. Barton says that we need to stay with the feelings of desperation and let it do its good work. “Desperation causes us to be open to radical solutions, willing to take all manner of risk in order to find what we’re looking for.”

I don’t know about you but my sediment needs some seriously radical solutions. I have no idea. I have no earthly way to wade my way through. Even thinking about it stirs the pot.

The rest of Barton’s book is about learning how to be still before God. I recommend it. The basic idea is to find a sacred space where you can sit and wait for God to speak. It’s not about an activity or a purpose beyond a conversation with God. We have to make ourselves available. We want God available to us but are we available to him?

[We need to]Run into God’s arms and give [ourself] to his embrace but we are carrying too much baggage and don’t know where to put it, sometimes we just need to write it all down and put it into an envelope marked TRUST, which is an act of giving it to God.

It’s about trust. How much do I really trust God? Another topic for another post.

I have tried this week to spend time focusing on God. He has been gracious with me and been very present. I can feel him speaking to me through the Bible, books I’m reading, sermons, songs and even a movie.

I’m still not great at being quiet, but I’m learning. I have taken to swimming for prayer. The monotnous rhythm and motion of gliding through the water lap after lap helps calm my mind. Every lap I pray and listen. I’m not an expert swimmer or an expert prayer-er. But it helps. I like the woosh of the water, it drowns out my own thoughts. Every turn reminds me to refocus.

I’ve found that after five days of wooshing and turning I look forward to my time in the water with God. I feel more focused, refreshed and able to face my problems. I still don’t have answers. All the sediment is still there but I’m learning to let go of more of it.

Into Great Silence [2005]

For 162 minutes the outside world is invited to get a rare glimpse into the life of the reclusive Chartreuse Monks. We are immersed into their order, discipline, and silence. There is no soundtrack in this movie except for the noise of the monks as they go about their daily lives. Instead we are left with our own inner dialogue as we are slowly lulled into the rhythm of their routines.

I didn’t quite know how to watch this movie. There is no real plot. There is no sound. We are simply ushered into their lives through the beauty of the mountains, their grounds and their home, built in the 11th century. Everything they do has been done in the exact same way for centuries. There is a methodical routine to their lives – they pray at designated hours even in the middle of the night, they mainly eat alone, and they spend hours reading.

At first I was intrigued by the simplicity of their life but I couldn’t get my brain to shut off. I had a million questions. What is the point of what they do? How does it serve mankind? Isn’t it selfish to keep all they have learned about God to themselves? Why would someone in 2007 join a monastery? Are they running from something? Does their mind wander when they pray? Do they get lonely? Can they change their minds and leave? How do they get medical care if they aren’t allowed to interact with seculars? Do they mind losing their identity? Do they get irritated with each other, even though they only see each other for weekly meals and walks in the woods? Why do the beautiful grounds and surrounding seem like a prison?

I tried ponder their ways and let myself be open to the experience. I just got antsier and my mind was still whirling.

With an hour left to go my brain started to slow down and I began to see their life in a different way. Everything they do is centered on God. The goal of everything is to help them better understand who he is. The simplicity of their lives, even their sameness is all to reflect who he is. I realized that their lifestyle of silence is worship.

Then I found myself asking different questions. How do you get to that place of surrendering to God’s presence? What is God trying to tell me now that I can’t hear because my life is too noisy? Do I want God that intimately connected to my life? Do I live my life like I do? What things do I need to abandon because they are just noise?

With about twenty minutes left in the film I finally just surrendered to it. I found myself at an odd place of calm and peace. I had no more questions, I just watched. My mind was at ease.

It reminded me of a silent retreat I went on in grad school. I only had to be silent for 8 hours. It took me about 6 hours to stop trying to control it, one hour to relax and stop talking. How said that it took me seven hours to shut up and listen to God. But that is how long my mind kept wandering, I keep being distracted by my surroundings, and I kept thinking of things to say. I only spent about 20 minutes resting in God’s presence. I was bathed in his love and the holy spirit ministered to me. It was amazing. it felt like hours but it wasn’t. I was so rested when I was done, and I only gave him 20 minutes. Imagine if I could do more.

I need to make a point of practicing the spiritual discipline of silence before God to experience more of his presence in my hurried existance. How much more would I enjoy of life when I approach things from a rested, non-fragmented place that is saturated with God’s presence. Imagine serving from a place of overflow instead of deficit, when I giving from the abundance that God gives to me instead of relying on the fumes.

I just feel its important for us to stay connected to what God is doing among us now. He is speaking to us and inviting us to be part of what he is doing in the world. We can’t stay secluded forever. God has a called us through the great commandment and the great commission to reach out into all the world with his love to tell them the good news of what he has done. But we have to make sure we’re taking the time to hear his voice.