Saturday, September 1, 2007
ENTERING THE QUIET
The effect of righteousness will be peace,
and the result of righteousness,
quietness and trust forever.
My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,
in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. Isaiah 32:17-18;
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up,
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time on and evermore. Psalm 131;
For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy
One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.
blessed are all those who wait for him.
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all they had done and taught. He said to them, 'Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Mark 6:30-32;
But those who wait for the LORD
shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31;
Teach me, and I will be silent;
make me understand how I have
gone wrong. Job 6:24;
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters; Psalm 23:2;
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he inclined to me and heard my cry. Psalm 40:1;
But Jesus was silent. Matthew 26:63;
I commune with my heart in the night;
I meditate and search my spirit:
Will the Lord spurn forever,
and never again be favorable.
I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds. Psalm 77:6,7,12;
Let the arrogant be put to shame,
because they have subverted me with guile;
as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. Psalm 119:78;
On the glorious spendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works,
I will meditate. Psalm 145:5;
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Matthew 6:1
The bishop of Belley, Jean Pierre Camus, wanted to know if Francis de Sales was really as holy as he seemed to be. So he drilled a hole in the wall of his bedroom in the episcopal residence to spy on him.
What did Camus discover? Only that Francis was the same in secret as he was in company. He saw the saint creep out of bed early and quietly in themornings so as not to wake his servant. He saw him pray, write in his journal, read the office, answer some letters, then pray again. The beautiful manners, the unruffled compassion, the courtesy and humility were all on display through the peephole as they had been in the pulpit or at the dinner-table.
Francis de Sales lived a life of congruence: he was what he seemed to be. His life with God, his personal serenity, his love for others: they were all in harmony.
How does anyone get to be that way? The answer is simple, but the process is life-long: develop a wholesome spirituality!
Spirituality is mainly about how I relate to God. 'Spirit' in the Bible = breath, life. The opposite of spirit is not matter, but death. 'Spiritual' worship is the offering of all we are to God (Romans 12:1). As we noted in the last chapter, it's about my 'desire', how I pray (the very best index of who I really am).
The spiritual life cannot be nurtured without discipline. In this chapter we'll look at four disciplines - solitude, silence, study and journaling. Next chapter we'll look at four more: fasting, simplicity, confession, and service.
1. Solitude is being alone with yourself, and with God. It is not the same as loneliness. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfilment.
Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. But loneliness and clatter are not our only alternatives. We can enjoy solitude in cities; it is possible to be a desert hermit and never experience solitude.
In his Life Together Bonhoeffer wrote: 'Let [the one] who cannot be alone beware of community ... [and whoever] is not in community [should] beware of being alone.' So we need both community and solitude: each is necessary for the enrichment of the other.
If we take seriously the discipline of solitude we will at some stage pass through what John of the Cross calls 'the dark night of the soul'. It is a time of apparent desolation, but in reality God is at work in divine surgery, bringing us to a profound stillness, so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul.
Thomas Merton observed: 'It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them.'
Solitary time with God can be in a retreat (say, for two days or eight days etc.) but above all it ought to be daily. Daily solitude is not a luxury; it is a necessity for spiritual survival. If we do not have that within us, from beyond us, we yield too much to that around us.
Find time each day to meet with God. Make a chapel or oratory somewhere, perhaps a corner of your bedroom, away from interruptions (put the telephone answering machine on), where you do your prayer and Bible/spiritual reading, not sermon preparation).
Begin your 'quiet time' with a Bible word, phrase or prayer (Be still....', 'Maranatha', 'Lord, have mercy on me a sinner'). 'Occupy yourself in it without going further. Do like the bees, who never quit a flower so long as they can extract any honey from it' (Francis de Sales).
'Lectio divina' is the slow, reflective reading of the Bible. Scripture is God's personal word to me - for my 'formation' not just information. I read it reverently, ready to be 'converted' again and again, willing to be led where I may be reluctant to go, believing that God has yet more light and truth to reveal to me. I try to learn to 'meditate on the Word day and night' (Psalm 1:2).
The Daily Office is an excellent structure for daily devotions. Try the daily office in any modern Anglican prayerbook. The Daily Office, says (Baptist) Stephen Winward is absolutely scriptural, God-centred, depends on an ordered use of Scripture (including difficult and challenging passages), is corporate, educative (we're in touch with prayer traditions centuries old) and 'obligatory' (even though the discipline is sometimes hard). Of course, as the Protestant Reformers emphasised, it can be mechanical and formal, but it doesn't have to be.
2. Silence. St. John of the Cross, the great teacher about mystical prayer, wrote: 'The Father spoke one Word, which was his Son, and this word he always speaks in silence, and in silence it must be heard by the soul.' Silence is 'the royal road to spiritual formation' (Nouwen). It is not just the absence of noise, but an opportunity to listen to the still small voice of the Spirit.
An exercise practised by all the spiritual masters is that of attending to the sounds around you. Why not stop now: what do you hear? Thank God for whatever those sounds represent.
3. Study. In meditation we attempt to let a word or phrase of Scripture speak to us. When we do 'Bible study' we bring our minds to bear on the text, to get into its meaning. Meditation is devotional, study is analytical. Bible study is the disciplined reading of Scripture to try to understand it. Meditation will relish a word; study will 'unpack' its meaning.
This process demands humility, as we can easily impose our own meanings on the biblical text, or organize doctrines within the narrow structure of our own biases. The central purpose of study is not doctrinal purity (though that is no doubt involved) but inner transformation. Bible study is far more likely to produce a Pharisee than meditation on Scripture. In Bible study we are 'over the word' organizing it, criticising it; in meditation and contemplation we are 'under the word': it becomes a critic of us. The Pharisee is a 'proof-texter' - fitting biblical texts into predetermined doctrinal frameworks.
4. Journaling is a useful way to record the promptings of the Spirit in your life. A spiritual journal is a written response to reality: a record of one's inner and outer life (including dreams), a way to inner growth, reflection and healing. In your journal you write down, in your own way, anything of importance to you - your feelings about life, and your relationships with others and God. Through the centuries men and women have 'journaled' in times of loneliness, crisis, ecstasy, transition and conflict. Your journal will help you with one of life's great adventures - the discovery of who you really are. You can then befriend the self you discover, and later re-traverse the journey again with thankfulness.
Only you should read your journal, unless you permit extracts to be seen by others, especially your spiritual director.
These four disciplines, regularly practised, will help you `Let go, let be, and let God'; you will experience a peace that passes understand- ing, not because you sought that peace directly, but in the process of discovering who you are in the quiet presence of God, you will be better able to negotiate a truce in those areas within where there was war before.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence...
T.S.Eliot, 'Ash Wednesday 1930', in Selected Poems, London: Faber, 1944, p.90.
Christian spirituality is a 'spirituality for combat' that goes deep within in order to venture beyond where others dare to go. It is a life of harmony that is caught up in a rhythm between the outer and the inner, between solitude and compassion, between the desert and the city. It is open to those who in the midst of activity are able to see possibilities for ministry in response to the 'still small voice' of God. 'To be a Christian and to pray are one and the same thing,' writes Karl Barth. 'It is a matter that cannot be left to caprice. It is a need, a kind of breathing necessary to life.'
James C. Fenhagen, Ministry and Solitude, New York: Seabury Press, 1981, p.70.
Do not give up; do not despair; do not be tempted to think it is all a waste of time. Humanly speaking it may be a waste of time, but then how much time have you wasted on waiting for someone you think you love? And there is no one better to waste time on than God. You may think you will have all eternity to love him, and could here and now be better employed doing a good work. But again, the simple message which God speaks is the paradox that if you give him more time, you will have more for other work.
Michael Hollings, Hearts Not Garments, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1982, p.16.
St Benedict said Oratio sit brevis et pura: `Let the prayer be brief and pure.' Though the time of meditation may be long, anything we say to God arising out of it will have a quality of simplicity. We prefer to listen to God than to make God listen to us. Throughout the Bible God is reproaching people for not listening to him; he does not complain that they do not speak to him.
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Finding God in All Things, London: Fountain Paperbacks, 1987, p.94-95.
When we rest we acknowledge that all our striving will, of itself, do nothing. It means letting the world pass us by for a time. Genuine rest requires acknowledgment that God, and our brothers and sisters, can survive without us. It requires a recognition of our own insufficiency and a handing over of responsibility. It is a real surrender to the ways of God. It is a moment of celebration when we acknolwedge that blessing comes only from the hand of God. This is why rest requires faith. It is also why salvation can be pictured as rest. When we rest we accept God's grace: we do not seek to earn, we receive; we do not justify, we are justified.
Paul Marshall, 'Work and Rest', Reformed Journal, June 1988, p.13.
[The attitude of the desert] is a going out of oneself to encounter the absolute and true reality of things... Authentic Christian contemplation, passing through the desert, transforms contemplatives into prophets and militants into mystics.
Segundo Galilea, 'Politics and Contemplation', in Geffre and Gutierrez eds., The Mystical and Political Dimensions of the Christian Faith, New York: Herder and Herder, 1974, p.28.
There is considerable value in corporate silence... The quantity of verbal interaction is not the only, or necessarily the best, indicator of fellowship. We know well the experience of words failing us when we try to communicate heights or depths of emotion or thought. There is a peculiar and beautiful eloquence in a person's wordless presence in community... Time and again retreatants told me that the most significant and helpful feature of their retreat was the silence. Often they wish there had been more silence...
Ross Kingham, Surprises of the Spirit, Canberra: Barnabas Ministries, 1990, p.32.
In one way or another, verbally, imaginatively, physically, intellectually, with whatever faculties are operating at the time, we say to Christ, `I want to be with you. Let me follow you and spend this time with you, and then perhaps I will begin to understand what it is that I really want'
The whole purpose of the [Ignatian] Spiritual Exercises can be summed up in terms of id quod volo: the Exercises are a way through which we find out for ourselves what it is that we want most deeply.
For everyone, ultimately, the answer is the same. We want God, because that is the way we have been made. `You have made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you'.
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Finding God in All Things, London: Fountain Paperbacks, 1987, p.76-77.
A man who had been unable to pray for years began a retreat by imagining himself at Bethlehem but found he could not enter the cave. Feelings of unworthiness, and of simply not being welcome, blocked his fantasy at that point. He and his director interpreted this, not as an inability to `make the contemplation', but as a sign that he was praying; and he continued to imagine himself barred at the entrance to the cave in his repetitions of the contemplation. After two days of this, during which the resentments and hopes of his whole past life welled up within him, he reported that he was invited to go in. The fantasy, with the block and its resolution, was so much the man himself that it became the carrier for a real encounter and meant the turning point of his spiritual life.
Robert Ochs, God is more present than you think, New York: Paulist Press, New York, 1970, p.62.
In contemporary society our Adversary majors in three things: noise, hurry and crowds. If he can keep us engaged in `muchness' and `manyness', he will rest satisfied. Psychiatrist C.G.Jung once remarked, `Hurry is not of the Devil; it is the Devil'.
If we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture - including our religious culture - we must be willing to go down into the recreating silences, into the inner world of contemplation. In their writings, all of the masters of meditation strive to awaken us to the fact that the universe is much larger than we know, that there are vast unexplored inner regions that are just as real as the physical world we know so well. They tell us of exciting possibilities for new life and freedom. They call us to the adventure, to be pioneers in this frontier of the Spirit.
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980, p.13.
Some of my most profitable experiences of study have come through structuring a private retreat for myself. Usually it involves two to three days. No doubt you will object that given your schedule you could not possibly find that kind of time. I want you to know that it is no easier for me to secure that time than for anyone else. I fight and struggle for every retreat, scheduling it into my datebook many weeks in advance. I have suggested this idea to groups and found that professional people with busy schedules, labourers with rigid schedules, housewives with large families, and others can, in fact, find time for a private study retreat. I have discovered that the most difficult problem is not finding time but convincing myself that this is important enough to find the time.
Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1980, p.60-61
The main part of the exercise: I make a note of the most important steps in my growing relationship with God (about eight is a good number). These steps, or stepping stones, may be single events, or they may be periods of growth. They may be explicitly religious, or they may be connected to the human process of maturing that I did not think of in terms of God at the time. I make a brief note of each as it occurs to me. Afterwards I can order them chronologically, so I have an idea of the overall shape of my life. There may also be steps backward, or anyway sideways.
When I have done this I am in a position to see what in my life I want to thank God for. I take time over this, being grateful for all that now seems positive in my history.
Only after I have done that do I look at the ways in which I have fallen short. Remembering the events that I am now grateful for, how could I have given more room in my life for the things that really matter?
Margaret Hebblethwaite, Finding God in All Things, London: Fount Paperbacks, 1990, p.165-6.
`In the world to come', says the Rabbi Zusya, `I shall not be asked: "Why were you not Moses?" I shall be asked: "Why were you not Zusya?" `Know yourself' has long been a spiritual directive. `Be yourself' is an additional emphasis of today...
John Garvey (Ed), Modern Spirituality, an Anthology, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1985, pp. vii.
When I first started practising the spiritual disciplines I read the works of great leaders - St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Francis Asbury, St. Teresa - and I tried to imitate them. It was a miserable failure until I learned that God wants to work with me as an individual. Now I can read these spiritual giants and be helped by them, but I must not try to do everything the way they did.
Richard Foster, 'Doing It God's Way' in La Vonne Neff et al (eds), Practical Christianity, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988, p. 296
Five ways to make spiritual disciplines a part of life:
1. Dave a daily devotional time.
2. Consider having some kind of personal retreat at regular intervals. For the past year I've been taking one day a month... I get away to a retreat place and spend time praying, meditating, reflecting, and making entries in my journal.
3. Get involved in some kind of cell group.
4. Use family time to develop spiritual disciplines. The way you do this will obviously depend on your situation...
5. Join with other church members in regular corporate worship.
Howard Snyder, 'Make the Spiritual Disciplines a Part of Life' in La Vonne Neff et al (eds), Practical Christianity, Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988, pp. 296-297.
The Christian life is lived out in the tension between self-discipline and the free gift of grace. Yet slavishly giving ourselves over to a discipline of prayer doesn't mean we will automatically experience joyous intimacy with God. A discipline of prayer may easily become a routine of life-killing legalism, all form and no substance. When piety becomes rigidly legalistic, many negative things may happen... One of the mysterious paradoxes of the Christian life is that it is in the practice of spiritual disciplines that we enter into the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Again I repeat, there is nothing mechanistic about prayer. We can't manipulate or control God with it, but it places us before him so that when he wills, he will come to us.
Kenneth Swanson, Uncommon Prayer, New York: Ballantine, 1987, p. 54
Lord, while I am searching for you, you have been seeking me. I pray for silence and stillness to apprehend you, for you are not to be found in noise and restlessness. Your beautiful creation - trees, flowers, grass - grow in silence. The stars, the moon, the sun move in silence. As we receive strength in silent prayer so we shall give to others in our active life. Teach me, Lord, that what I say or what I do is less important than what you say to me and what you do in me. Words and deeds which do not share the light and life of Christ increase the darkness and death.
O gracious and holy Father, give us
wisdom to perceive you,
intelligence to understand you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate on you,
and a life to proclaim you
through the power of the spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Benedict, cited in Praying with the Saints, Dublin: Veritas Publications, 1989, p.26.
Go into the desert and there find your God in the silence; go into the depths of your being, and find your real self; in disciplined self-examination allow God and yourself to come together. Make your confession to him and receive his forgiveness. Then go into the world in peace to love and serve the Lord. Amen.
Now: Make a serious, personal covenant with the Lord, writing down in your journal a commitment to meet with him regularly, and outlining a way of approaching that 'quiet time' that is suited to you.
Buy Kenneth Swanson, Uncommon Prayer, and read it through fairly quickly, then spend several months slowly reading Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline.
Contact a local retreat centre, and ask for their program. Book yourself into a retreat or course each year.
Some Spiritual Exercises: In your journal, write responses to these:
1. Imagine you are the woman healed in Mark 5:21-34 or Peter at the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:30-52): how do you feel?
2. Make a list of the main events of your life. Why are they important?
3. Answer the question: 'What is my desire'?
4. 'The second greatest tragedy is to have never been loved. But the greatest tragedy is to be loved and never know it.' Write a love-letter to the Lord.
5. What would you do on the last day of your life?
6. Write - honestly - your own funeral oration. What will the pastor say about you, do you think?