Several of my friends are devoted to fishing and sailing.
I’m convinced the primary motivation for these activities is an excuse to do nothing—to just sit waiting for a bite—to just get carried by the wind. Rarely, in our modern world, are we afforded the time required for minds to still—to settle into the desert quiet that fertilized the minds of the prophets—the minds of shepherds like David who wrote “God leads me beside still waters. God restores my soul” (Psalms 20: 2- 3).
Christian tradition, especially Protestant tradition, emphasizes revelation from scripture. Yet, at its root, revelation in scripture began with silence. The silence of the fields and hills of the middle east. Silence is the fertile soil where God’s word originates. To discover the revelation of scripture we expose ourselves to scripture. To discover the revelation of silence, we expose ourselves to silence.
In silence there is revelation. We come to the frontiers of stillness, and we find a number of things. Some feel discomfort, some anxiety, some feel tension in their bodies, and still others feel emotional turmoil. and most will discover, above all else, the wandering mind and how difficult it is to still it. What we experience reveals something about our nature. The revelation of the wandering mind is itself a great gift of awareness.
When our mind finally stills and enters deep silence we come to revelation about ourselves.
Silence leads us into transformation and toward knowledge of God. God whispered a word in our ear at the beginning of time and continues to whisper it.
The prophet Hosea invites us into silent places where God’s presence is most evident: “I will entice you into the desert and there I will speak to you in the depths of your heart” (Hosea 2: 14). The desert symbolizes stillness and silence. It’s free of the buzz of numerous organisms and habitation. The desert symbolizes freedom from thoughts and words.
The deserts of silence await us as they awaited Jesus, the Saints, prophets, and apostles. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10). Be still and peel off the layers of who you are not, of who you thought you were. Find your original nature, unencumbered with images, words, thoughts, props. Your original nature is satisfied with the present moment and desires nothing that it does not already possess. Free from clothing and all artifice we can return to the Garden of Eden and walk hand in hand with God in the cool of the day (Genesis 3: 8- 9). We can let go of our habitual and compulsive clinging to sense objects, because we have something more luminous and deeply satisfying to behold.
Thomas Keating writes:
“Contemplative prayer is the opening of mind and heart—our whole being—to God, the ultimate mystery, beyond thoughts, words, and emotions. We open our awareness to God whom we know by faith is within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than choosing—closer than consciousness itself. Contemplative prayer is a process of interior purification leading, if we consent, to divine union.”
The nature of the untrained mind is like a wild monkey, jumping from branch to branch. The mind’s always clinging to one thing or another. Rarely, will it let go of the numerous stimuli and settle into silence. Because of its distracted nature, the mind has to be trained to focus. This training takes time. A challenge is that training the mind is less tangible then training for a marathon or practicing a musical instrument. Training the mind is more primal and less concrete than other kinds of training. Because it is insubstantial and doesn’t produce any immediate measurable result, the Western mind usually dismisses it.
Yet, the mind is the root of our existence and our experience. Our state of mind is everything. So, changing habits of the mind is powerful! At times it may seem insignificant — as if anything else is a better use of time. Yet mystics the world over tell us this kind of training is the key for dismantling hidden addictions and is the key to freedom.
For more detail on Contemplative Prayer and Meditation:
The Importance of Sabbath Rest
The ancient Hebrews knew the importance of un-programmed relaxation time—time to refrain from all conventional work. To ensure sacred time free from usual work the ancient Hebrews established a holy day: the Sabbath.
In many cultures, Sabbath observance is the most ignored of the 10 commandments.
What did Jesus say about the Sabbath? He said the Sabbath was created for people, not people for the Sabbath (Mark 2: 27). He meant we don’t have to get legalistic about it. If someone’s ill, by all means care for them on the Sabbath. If a cow is caught in a fence, by all means, release it, even if it’s the Sabbath. But (and this is the point) Jesus never did away with the Sabbath. Jesus observed and honored it (Matthew 5:17- 18).
In recent North American history, business owners closed shop and refused to conduct business on Sundays. Throughout the last century Sunday was treated as a Sabbath day.
Now most businesses keep their doors open on Sundays. Clubs and schools hold meetings and gatherings on Sunday. Few people are bothered. The conventional sense of Sabbath vanished. It has lost its hold throughout cities, suburbs, and ranchlands.
If we want a day of rest we’ll have to create it. We’ll have to value it enough to carve it out of our busy lives and hear the protests from family and business partners.
On the Sabbath the ancient Hebrews read Torah and rested from all physical work. The Hebrew notion of Sabbath made a profound impact in western society. The two-day weekend practiced by all industrialized countries has its roots in the Judaic Sabbath.
Sabbath reconnects us with the burning desire of our lives. It puts our lives in perspective and helps us discern what we in truth want to do with our time. “What are my priorities?” “Am I happy?” “Are my choices in line with my faith?” “What am I passionate about?” “Do I take time to serve?” “Is my life caught up with numerous insignificant details?” “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” “What is my life’s mission?”
If we don’t take regular time to cultivate our human endowments and get perspective, we may become ensnared in numerous commitments out of sync with our core values. Sabbath rest reconnects us with our most profound human abilities: conscience, self-awareness, creative imagination, and independent will.
Sabbath time is the Mary part of the Mary and Martha story (Luke 10: 38- 42). Martha was busy multitasking to make it all happen. Mary simply sat at Jesus feet, absorbed his words, and listened in stillness and rapture.
The 4th commandment is just as important today as it was to the ancients. The commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20: 8).
We all need daily, weekly, and yearly Sabbath time to recharge. What Sabbath time teaches is that we are more important than what we do. We are primarily human beings, not human doings. Are we a prayerful presence when things get stressful or are we frantic like those around us? Are we always running around (often with little awareness), or do we have a sense of Sabbath? I don’t think any of us can maintain a sense of Sabbath all the time. Yet the more we marinate in pregnant silences, the more thoroughly the flavor of the silence will permeate us.
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Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. (Mark 6:31)
Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. (Luke 23:56)
For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:10)
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: (1 John 3:19)
Healing the Divide; Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots by Amos Smith