“Be still and know that I am God.” –Psalm 46:10
I haven’t written about the Journey since Ash Wednesday, and I have a chance to share a rather provocative experience I had yesterday. Not provocative in a negative way – hardly – but one that helped me to continue with what I’m doing during Lent.
Being still – being quiet – can be disturbing. Especially if we’re trying to find that inner stillness that exists in each one of us. Sometimes it can be downright scary to be quiet, especially if we encounter the things inside of us that we don’t want to acknowledge are there. If we do that, we run the risk of running into those things we can’t (or don’t want to) deal with.
Yesterday I went to a Lenten retreat. I haven’t been to one in a really long time, and this, at least for me, was different than any that I’d ever been on. Pretty much any retreat I’ve attended has been conducted by a Catholic – a priest, a monk, nuns, lay people, all at different times and different places. And, the times I’ve been out of sight have been when I’ve been enclosed inside the walls of a monastery. Both of those are conducive to learning and getting a handle on reading our “spiritual compass” to ensure we’re traveling in the direction we’re supposed to be traveling in. The retreat yesterday was given on St. Michael’s Romanian Orthodox Church in Southbridge, Massachusetts, and the presenter was Dr. Albert Rossi, an adjunct faculty member at St. Vladimir’s Seminary, an Orthodox seminary not far from New York City, in Yonkers.
His topic for the day was “stillness.” It was about not thinking, because thinking gets in the way of listening for the voice of God. And, more importantly, most of us don’t hear spoken words when God talks to us, unless of course you’re Stephen, the crazy Irish character in the movie “Braveheart.” Seriously, though, some do hear God speak to them with words – it happens - but most of the time it’s about the things that we see or that are presented to us as opportunities that come before us as gifts from God. Those opportunities can be anything: a challenge, an act we witness, illness sometimes…. The list goes on. But I think my point is pretty clear: God makes His Presence known to us, every day, in ways that we wouldn’t necessarily expect Him to.
Dr. Rossi also talked at length with us about The Jesus Prayer. Now, I know this prayer and use it in my daily life. And I often ask myself why the Rosary, which is a prayer that is a staple to Catholics everywhere, has to be so complex. I understand that ultimately it is a meditation on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but when I learned it I nearly went out of my mind. The Jesus Prayer, however, is one simple sentence:
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
That’s it. And it is easy to pray it at length, to “pray without ceasing”, as Paul told the Thessalonian church in his first letter to them. And we can incorporate the prayer into any time that we spend just being still. Or not; it is possible to “pray without ceasing” while doing just about anything.
The other part of the retreat – the people – was a huge bonus for me. I got to meet some of the people whose blogs I follow. In fact, I’ve written about these folks in the past. They were really welcoming to me – that is a gift in itself, and in thinking about it now this was an example of being spoken to by God, simply through human kindness. And now I have new friends that I didn’t have before.
You probably wonder, as you’ve read this, why I would travel close to 100 miles to hear a talk on being still. After all, it is something I know about. At least I thought I did. But those of you that know me well understand that I like to learn, and this was an opportunity to learn, as it turns out, about myself.
And I did. Peace.