Be still and know that I am God…
This verse, taken from the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament, is over 2,500 years old. Clearly, even then, there was a need for people to be reminded of the importance of stillness – quiet – in their lives.
As the millennia have passed and human society has advanced to the present, we’re still in need of stillness, perhaps more than ever.
When we are still, we allow our minds and bodies to gradually come to rest. When we quiet ourselves we’re better able to hear the voice of God – the voice that lies deeply within and around us all. That voice is the truest part of ourselves and when we pay attention and listen carefully we’ll find ourselves coming into a deeper, richer encounter with the Divine.
You are invited to begin your retreat by spending time in silence, being still. Spend a few moments clearing your mind and allowing yourself to be quiet. Do this at your desk or, better yet, find a quiet, comfortable place to be. Sit in the stillness of the present moment, letting go of all other thoughts, concerns, and distractions as best you can. Check in on your physical senses as you sit in the stillness. Do you have a sense of well-being? Of being tired? Hungry? Energized? etc. Sit with these feelings for a bit. Don't judge them, just note them and accept them. If helpful, journal about your experience.
Suggested Activity: Breathing Exercise
Pay attention to your breathing – inhaling and exhaling gently, regularly and fully. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Perhaps you might wish to repeat the word “peace” when you inhale and “love” when you exhale. Or, choose some other image or word upon which to focus while you breathe. Sometimes simply being attentive to your own breath in this way can help you be still and become aware of God’s presence.
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.
Matthew 6: 25-34
How deeply personal is this message from Jesus to us. How simple and natural for Christ to use the birds in the air and the lilies of the field to make his enduring point: that God will take care of us.
God knows what we need, better than we know it ourselves. And, just as the most insignificant of God’s creation are taken care of, so, too, shall we be.
So, why then worry? Jesus asks his followers. Can we add one hour to our lives by worrying? Are we able to influence something that is out of our control? Let tomorrow worry about tomorrow.
There are so many rich lessons within this simple narrative that we would do well to remember. Don’t be a slave to your material desires, but seek to be a good and faithful person. Live in the moment and do not be consumed over what the future holds. The same God who takes care of the least among us will surely continue to care for you and I.
Take a moment to do a “physical inventory” of yourself. What happens when you feel stressed or anxious? Do you clench your stomach muscles or make a fist? Are your shoulders tense and is your breath quicker and more shallow? Do you knit your brow?
Alternatively, how do you feel when you are free from worry and stress? Are you breathing deeply – inhaling and exhaling fully? Is your body loose and relaxed? Are your mind and your heart at ease?
Our bodies hold answers to our spiritual wellbeing. Make a point of checking in with yourself during the day to take this “physical inventory.” If you find yourself showing the physical signs of worry and anxiety, take a break. Settle yourself and let your worry go.
Make a short list of the things that worry you. Then examine this list and ask yourself if there is anything you can do about any of the items you’ve listed. If so,write this down as a step towards further action. If there is nothing you can do, then cross this off of your list of things to worry about.
On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, “Let us cross to the other side.” And, leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. Just then a violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?!” He woke up, rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, “why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
Mark 4: 35-40
Imagine yourself to be in the boat with Jesus and the disciples as described in the Gospel of Mark. You are out, in the middle of the lake, when suddenly, the sky grows dark and the wind begins to stiffen. Sheets of rain start to come down and the waves grow larger and larger. In very short order, the wind and rain are howling around you, the distant shore cannot be seen and waves are breaking and crashing over the sides and into the boat. The simple craft, with you in it, is tossing and turning sinking lower and lower into the water…
While most of us, hopefully, will never know an experience like that described in the Gospel, we are all probably familiar with feelings of fear and anxiety - maybe as great as those felt by the disciples during the storm. Our concerns could be related to academic performance, professional pressures, family worries or the experience of change. What is it in all of those things that causes our fear? Is it a lack of control? Fear of failure? Being worried about the unknown? Is it a fear of pain or death? Maybe all of those things.
While it is true, then, that fear and worry are real it is also true that we often may be afraid of something for no good reason. Think about it – haven’t there been times in your life when you feared the worst and then everything turned out alright? Perhaps there is a lesson in all of that.
Life will challenge all of us, sometimes causing us to be afraid. But, as Jesus urged the disciples, even in the midst of fear we must have faith.
Suggested Activity: Meditation and Reflection Questions
1) The great Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich, had a deep and profound relationship with God. It was said that God even spoke to her these words: All Shall Be Well – And, All Shall Be Well – And, All Manner of Thing Shall Be Well.
Now, begin by quieting yourself and relaxing your body. Breath deeply – gently and fully exhaling and inhaling. Feel all of the worries and stresses of your life leaving your mind and body with each exhale. As you experience this breathing exercise begin to focus yourself on the words spoken to Julian of Norwich. Picture in your mind these words from God: All Shall Be Well – And, All Shall Be Well – And, All Manner of Thing Shall Be Well. Gently repeat this.
2) Reflect upon an event or relationship in your life where you have felt and known fear. Write about it. Where was God in the fear?
3) What are some things you would like to let go of that cause you anxiety? Write them down on a sheet of paper. Pray to let go of these fears – handing them over to God so that you no longer have to shoulder the weight of their burden. When you are ready, crumple up the sheet of paper and dispose of it, giving the fears up as you do so. Feel what it's like to be liberated from them.
As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary (who) sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me." The Lord said to her in reply, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
Luke 10: 38-42
How many of us, so often, have felt like Martha? Busy working, serving others, anxious to get things just right: school work, the office, relationships, home-life.
With our lives so full of activity, we probably don’t feel as though we could be like Mary, resting at the feet of Jesus, even if we tried.
In this story, Jesus Christ does not so much critique Martha’s activity as he reminds her of something she seems to have forgotten: that activity also has a companion in contemplation, work will always need to be balanced by rest, and, anxiety must ultimately give way to faith.
As the saying goes: we’re human BEINGS not human DOINGS. Jesus seems to be telling us that if we don’t take the opportunity to BE than what we DO won’t mean very much. Yes, there are times when what we do matters a great deal and must be prioritized. We have jobs to perform, families to support and care for, responsibilities to meet. But, we would probably all agree we certainly don’t need to be working ALL of the time. With this in mind, are we taking the time to be like Mary as well as like Martha?
Activity and reflection:
Take a moment to close your eyes and relax. Take deep, cleansing breaths exhaling fully each time. Now, imagine yourself as Mary - sitting with Jesus. Despite the activity that surrounds you, you are at peace. Your mind is quiet, the tension flows out of your body and you are surrounded by warmth and comfort. Deeply, in your heart, you know that all will be well…what needs to get done will get done…and, that Christ will be with you through it all. Sit with this feeling of serenity and faith for several moments.
Now, ask yourself:
How balanced is my life? Do I take time for reflection, prayer and relaxation each day? If your answer to these questions is something like “not very” and “no” then perhaps you need to consider finding ways to integrate these into your day.
What makes you feel relaxed? Alternatively, what gives you energy? Make a short list of these things (in your head or written down) and then think of one way you can add them into your life.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14: 6
At last, with these words, we arrive at the essential message of Christ. Jesus knows who he is and he knows that possession of this truth – that he is the way to God – will give his followers knowledge, hope and liberation. In this, we are reminded of another well known exhortation that comes later in the Gospel of John: that the truth will set us free.
If truth holds such promise for us, why can it be so difficult to accept? Maybe because growing into our authentic selves is not an easy task. We often yearn to be something we’re not – we have difficulty accepting our limitations. Or, we don’t always have the time and patience to honestly discern who we are and what we are about.
But, the message of Jesus is clear: through seeking and learning the truth we will be freed. Freed to become the people God has created us to be.
• Growing into your authentic self is a continuing journey. Who are you right now? Think about it and write down 5 words that best describe you.
• Now, ask yourself if the description you arrived at would be recognized by the people you interact with – your family, friends, co-workers. If it would be helpful, ask them to describe you, too. How close do their descriptions match yours?
• Where do you wish to be in 5 years? Write this down. If you are struggling with this question ask yourself why? Sit with this.