Hurry Up… and Stop

Advent starts tomorrow.

Maybe your “Christmas season” started at 4:30am on Friday morning; maybe it started online on Thursday night.

Maybe you are already running at 150 miles and hour.

Maybe you are already stressed out due to family tensions and too-many-parties.

But maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.

Here’s a reminder: Advent is about waiting. 

If you don’t come from a liturgical background (I don’t, by the way), you may not realize that Christmas actually begins on December 25 and lasts for 12 days (hence the annoying song). The season that leads up to December 25 is called “Advent”, which literally means “the coming into being.”

If you follow the Christian calendar, Advent is a period of time reflect on the significance of the arrival of Jesus Christ into the world.

(Which is kind of a big deal…)

So maybe your holiday season has already begun with a frenetic—even pathological—tone. However, it does not need to remain that way.

After all, it doesn’t take a ton of effort to engage in some moments of reflection and thoughtful contemplation this season.

So here’s my question/challenge: What will you do over the next 25 days to slow down, to reflect, to rise above (or stay below, as the case may be) the Christmas (not Advent) madness? 

What if you set aside 10-20 minutes in the morning to reflect and stay silent (or maybe even begin a practice of centering prayer)?

What if you lit a candle each evening at dinner to remind yourself of this light that is “coming into the world”? (see John 1)?

What if you went through a book of Advent reflections?

What if you chose to read through a Gospel (or 2 even) during this season?

Christians are fond of saying, “Jesus is the reason for the season”, but most of us really don’t do anything to actually act like it. We tend to go about our business in much the same way as the rest of the world.

Could this December be different?

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Here Be Dragons

On some ancient maps, unknown territories were marked by the phrase, “Here Be Dragons” (or as on this map, they Psalter_World_Map,_c.1265were simply drawn in). It was a way to alert people to the fact that beyond the pale, there was no way of knowing what you might encounter.

Silence and meditation—or mindfulness, ̛as it’s becoming known—is becoming popular spirituality, and its qualities are becoming widely known (I wrote it about a few months back). However, part of my experience with the practice of silence has definitely been along the lines of “Here Be Dragons.”

One of the first lessons I learned when I began to practice silence was that I was really good at covering stuff up. The noise in my life serves as anesthesia to the uglier parts of my soul. The more distracted I am, the less I need to look at the brokenness that flows through my life like a stagnant and rank river. Who wants to smell that? So I add more and more to my life, in the form of iPods, movies, television shows, Netflix, radio, iPhones, constant connectivity, and more and more meetings, people, and parties, all so I can ignore the junk. 

All so I can pretend the dragons don’t exist.

Silence and contemplation aren’t all peaceful, comfortable minutes of bliss.

For me, when I begin to quiet my spirit, my vision inevitably drifts beyond the known borders of my life, into the unknown.

Where the dragons are.

Does this sound overly scary or melodramatic? Maybe. I don’t know.

But I know that when you stop being distracted, stop numbing yourself, there’s nothing to take your gaze away from the stuff that lurks inside you.

Now here’s the good news.

When contemplation and silence is done right, you know you’re not alone. It’s tough sure, because lets face it, dragons are just scary (even when voiced by the oh-so-dreamy Benedict Cumberbatch), but we know that we don’t have to fear being crushed or destroyed, because … and this is amazing… 

God dwells beyond the borderlands as well.

Scripture tells us repeatedly that God is entirely at home silence, darkness, and wilderness. The monastics unabashedly declare, “Silence is God’s first language.”

All this adds up to the idea that, true, we may be strolling into Smaug’s lair, but we don’t walk alone.

It’s our job to sit,to quiet the distractions, and to find the scary parts of our souls.

But ultimately it’s God’s job to slay the dragons.

 

+e

 

 

Gospel Artist :: Enjoy the Silence

photoMaybe we just talk way too much.

It’s not surprising, considering out environment… How quiet is the space you’re in, right now?

How much music is there?

How loud is the traffic?

Is the TV on?

Do we even know what “silence” is? (Never mind what it can actually do in our lives).

A few months ago, I was blessed to be able to spend 2 days in silence and solitude. Don’t get me wrong it was really pretty freaky at times (At times, I was the only person in the entire retreat facility: The Shining, anyone?)

But during those few days confirmed what I’ve been gradually learning more and more in my life:

Sometimes we just need to shut up. 

I just noticed something recently about a familiar story. It’s about a guy named Elijah, and how God reveals himself to him. Through some stuff that happens, Elijah finds himself hanging out by himself in a cave, pretty beat up and at his wits’ end. God decides to show up:

The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the LORD. The LORD is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the LORD. But the LORD wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the LORD wasn’t in the earthquake. But the LORD wasn’t in the earthquake. After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the LORD wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

The thing that stood out to me is the description of the voice. In English we miss how small this “small voice” was. The Hebrew for small is a word that references the thickness of a hair or a grain of sand. One Rabbi said that the voice could be described literally as “a voice of silence.”

Easy to miss.

As Elijah is looking for something, the biggest and flashiest events that God can muster roll by him. But God isn’t there. And only when Elijah is quiet enough to hear the “voice of silence” can he come to the edge of the cave and hear what God wants to ask him.

So I have two questions for you:

1. What might God want to ask you? 

2. Can you hear the voice of silence? 

So many of us desire direction. So many of us are hungry to hear that centering Spirit, that voice. We are in caves, and we don’t want to be there.

We are waiting to be called.

But we also just won’t. stop. talking. 

We muster our own wind, and earthquakes, and fires by the things we say about God, about what we want from him, when all the time He is waiting for us to just be quiet, so that we can hear that “grain-of-sand voice”.

Are you willing to be silent to hear God? Are you willing to trade your “earth, wind and fire” (never gets old, but just try to watch that video without smiling) for the voice of silence?

Oh yeah, and THIS.

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Saltwater

Last time I checked, salt water looks suspiciously like, well, fresh water. In fact, if you live near the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean, there’s a decent chance that the salt water there looks a lot better than most fresh water you’ll see (trust me, I used to live near Lake Michigan).

But there’s just this one thing about salt water.

If you drink it, it will kill you. 

I’m a little fuzzy on all the science, but essentially salt water is four times as salty as the blood in our bodies. As you drink it, the cells inside us are shrinking, and basically we are suffering a “net loss” of hydration with each drink. Keep it up, and you will fry your body’s system, and you’ll be unable to recover.

But, last time I checked, salt water looks suspiciously like, well, fresh water. 

There are things around us, that look like they give us life.

There are things in our environment that appear to help us, but are actually causing a net loss inside us.

There are activities that we think are making things better—that even appear necessary to our existence.

But they are taking a toll.

We are in the season of Advent, which is designed to be a season of reflection and anticipation. Instead, for most of us it’s a season of frenetic activity, consumption, and distraction.

And for most of us, our solution to this “problem” is to run faster, consumer more, and “multi-task” more and more.

But is that actually our saltwater?

Sometimes, the very thing that appears to help us is the thing that is actually beginning to choke away our life. It’s saltwater.

It’s a few more days until Christmas; chances are, your schedule is not going to get any slower over the week.

But do you need to run faster? Check email more often?

Or is that an illusion?

Is it actually producing a “net loss” in your life?

Is it saltwater?

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Silence

I do “contemplation” pretty well. It’s in my nature to be somewhat quiet and at rest (as my waistline will attest).

But there’s a difference between rest and redemptive silence.

Recently, I have not been able to begin my day in silence the way I have been accustomed to, and I my soul has been paying the price. I’ve realized that taking some time—any time—has a significant positive impact to the amount of peace in my spirit.

It’s easy to assume that we’re supposed to “hit the ground running”. Maybe we’re supposed to hit the ground listening.

Or kneeling. 

To let God speak a word—The Word—to us, before we start speaking back to Him, or to our families.

We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

My (Half) Day as a Monk

image via wikipedia.org

All I knew is that I needed a break.

Last week, I found myself desperately needing to hear from God. I didn’t know quite know what to do, so I drastically rearranged my schedule in order to try and put myself, as best I could, in a position to listen. About halfway through the day, I thought, “Hey, I just spent the day like a monk would!”

Okay let’s be honest: my understanding of a monk’s life is informed mostly by television, movies, and a few books, but this represents my best guess as to what it would be like. 

  • Monks get silence. St. Benedict wrote that Monks should diligently cultivate silence at all times.” After I dropped my daughter off at school, I stopped talking (Full disclosure: In order to keep from being rude, I needed to say, “Thanks,” to a couple people). I turned the radio off, put away the iPod, and just. shut. up.
  • Monks get solitude. Bernard of Clairvaux wrote, “Christ the Lord is a spirit before your face, and he demands solitude of the spirit more than of the body… To follow the advice and example of the bridegroom, shut the door and then pray… He spent nights alone in prayer, not merely hiding from the crowds but even from his disciples and familiar friends.” I hid my phone and turned off my mail app, in order to be fully present and not distracted.
  • Finally, monks get work. Though the purpose of a monastic life was not to work and “produce” stuff, the fathers of the church knew the value of working with your hands and contributing to a community. In the midst of my silence, I went out and mowed the lawn, continuing to direct my thoughts towards God (and also continuing to remain silent).

Silence and solitude don’t come easy or naturally in our society. Even our spirituality can be shot through and through with activity, busy-ness, and distractedness.

Dallas Willard bluntly writes that, “the life in tune with God is actually nurtured by time spent alone… It is is solitude and solitude alone that opens the possibility of a radical relationship to God that can withstand all external events up to and beyond death. (The Spirit of the Disciplines, 101)

Because I believe in the power of a secret, I won’t divulge all of what I heard from God that day, but I will tell you this much:

He spoke, and I heard. 

A lot of you might say, “I could never take the time to do that,” but I wonder…

  • a lot of us take regular trips to the beach or to the pool…
  • a lot of us carve out time to travel hours (because in Tallahassee we have to) to go see a great band…
  • a lot of us take days full of friends, shopping, and voices…

So why not take some time to seek some silence, and quietness. Take some space to get away from the constant voices in your life to sit at the feet of God?

p.s. to read a little more about the rule of St. Benedict, you can go here and here.