Silence and stillness and stuff

When I read this verse “He said to them, ‘Take nothing for the journey, neither walking stick, nor sack, nor food, nor money, and let no one take a second tunic…'” (Luke 9:3) I think I’m doing retreats entirely wrong. I take a lot of “stuff” so I won’t get bored. Perhaps it isn’t the silence that is the issue – but the fear of really being alone with God. Making art, writing, reading books – all of that can be noise. Maybe “silence” for me is more about “stillness”.

rock 5

The rock garden at St. Meinrad used to be my favorite place. Now it is full of “stuff”

I feel that the garden needs some editing. Like the “stuff” needs to be rotated out, like an art display. How much is “whimsy” and how much is “crazy”?

Yes – you need to slow down and really look here. That is part of the point. To get you to see things that are small or hidden.

You will never see this rock unless you crouch down.  It is at most five inches high.

rock 2

How are you to hear God’s voice amidst a lot of noise?  Noise isn’t just sound – it can also be visual clutter, or too many things to do.

rock 1

God didn’t start speaking to Moses from the bush until Moses stopped – turned around – and came back to look at it. He almost walked by. He almost didn’t get the order to lead Israel out of slavery.  What are we missing being freed from – and leading others out of their slavery (to false gods, to addiction, to worry) by failing to take the time to really notice God’s messages to us?

This was in another courtyard, but I have seen the same thing in the rock garden.

This is a daylily –

rock 6

While this is a seed pod – brown and decaying.

rock 7

There is a lot of this decay in the garden.  And yet – this is beautiful.  I’d never see this shape if it had been taken away in a need to keep everything tidy.  Sometimes “clutter” is helpful.


We are afraid of the stillness, the quiet time. We pack our days with things to do. We are terrible about allowing our bodies and minds to rest.

We can’t sit still. We have our phones out, checking in with the news, with friends whenever we have a spare moment. In reality we are checking out. We are divorcing ourselves from what is going on right there, right then.

When was the last time you just stood in line, just stood there?

So much for the mantra “Be Here Now”. We are nowhere and everywhere and timeless. We are either running late or planning ahead, but we are rarely right here and right now.

Stillness is healing.

Seeds have to be in darkness for a while before they can grow. The sun isn’t always shining. The rain helps plants to grow.

Stillness is a time of quiet energy. Look around you at nature. We have so divorced ourselves from the cycles of nature that we don’t even know what our own nature is. We sit inside, where we can adjust the temperature and light to our liking. We have confused ourselves, thinking that we are something separate from nature.

So when the crash comes, we fall hard. We fight against it, seeing it as a weakness. It is the simple inevitable result of not taking time out.

Our brains, our bodies, our souls must have rest.

We forget to schedule this. We work and push and stretch so much we wear out sooner than we should. Depression sinks in. Lethargy. Doldrums. We feel adrift in an empty sea.

We can fight it, or we can see the rocking of the sea as the gentle rocking of a mother, holding us in her arms, helping guide us to nourishing, healing sleep.

Children are often resistant to go to sleep. They feel they are going to miss something. We are the same way, for the same reason, as adults.

Now, there is also something to the idea of not being adrift too long. It is all too easy to stay out there forever and never get anywhere. I’ve written a lot about how to jumpstart your creative self, how to get past the self censor that lurks in all of us.

But it is also important to not see the down time as an enemy. You need some of it to regroup, recommit, restore. Balance is essential. So it is important to plan for quiet times. Schedule them in.

I’ve discovered that physical group exercise is a time out for my head. I don’t think about what is going on for 75 minutes. Someone tells me what to do and I do it, and meanwhile I get a workout. I also know that creative time is good. It is quiet yet productive. Sometimes it isn’t about making a specific thing so much as letting the Spirit work through me. In those times I step aside, taking a mental break.

If music is the space between the notes as Mozart says, then “down time” is more important than the up time. It shapes it. It gives it meaning. It provides content.

Try this meditation. It was provided to me in a recent class. Say each phrase out loud, or have someone do it for you. Breathe for several moments after each phrase. Let it sink in.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know.

Be still.