“Be still, and know that I am God,” says the psalmist.
Nearly every Thursday evening, our contemplative group gathers to do just that. Of course there is time for fellowship, reflection and songs, but we also pray in silence for twenty minutes.
Over the years, people in the group have commented on how hard it is to sit still and fend off distractions or sleep. (At the end of an evening, we have ribbed one or two friends who nodded off and began to snore.) As difficult as it is to practice this type of prayer, no one has ever suggested that we give it up.
I think it is because each of us longs to fully know and fully love God directly, without needing the mediation of words, images, or feelings. The Spirit has awakened in us “a naked intent toward God.” We long to rest in God alone and commune with our Creator in the core of our being. That communing transforms us.
It’s not easy for most people to wrap their minds around the idea that they can be transformed simply by resting. We often assume that personal growth only happens as a result of hard work and determination.
But, think about it. What happened after you were conceived? For nine months you did nothing to make yourself grow. All you did was rest and receive nourishment and loving caresses. Or think of how your body is refreshed between falling asleep at night and waking up in the morning. Immeasurably more than we can imagine happens when we rest in God.
The anonymous fourteenth century author of The Cloud of Unknowing says,
You will seem to know nothing and to feel nothing except a naked
intent toward God in the depths of your being. Try as you might,
this darkness and this cloud will remain between you and your God.
You will feel frustrated, for your mind will be unable to grasp him,
and your heart will not relish the delight of his love. But learn to be
at home in this darkness. Return to it as often as you can, letting
your spirit cry out to him in love. For if, in this life, you hope to feel
and see God as he is in himself, it must be within this darkness and
this cloud. But if you strive to fix your love on him forgetting all else,
which is the work of contemplation I have urged you to begin, I am
confident that God in his goodness will bring you to a deep experience
And that, my friends agree, is worth sitting still for.
God can do anything, you know
—far more than you could ever imagine
or guess or request in your wildest dreams!
He does it not by pushing us around
but by working within us,
his Spirit deeply and gently within us.
-Ephesians 3:20 (The Message)