Mark’s gospel says that one evening Jesus got into a boat with his disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee. He was exhausted after a day of teaching and healing and fell asleep on a cushion at the back of the boat. A while later a fierce squall threatened to swamp them. The disciples woke Jesus. “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”
Unperturbed Jesus stood up and addressed the elements. “Peace! Be still!” The wind died down and the sea calmed.
I picture the disciples sitting in that boat, hands clenched to the railing as the rolling seas begin to settle. I can hear the last few waves lap against the boat’s hull until finally there is no sound at all. I can see the disciples, surrounded by stillness, rising in awe.
When I was in college, I swam twice a week at the YWCA. One morning I was the first one there. I rushed onto the pool deck, goggles in hand, to do my lengths, but the sight of the pool without one ripple in it stopped me. I had never seen the water this still before. I was reluctant to dive in and disturb it. What would it be like to embody such stillness?
I am rarely still. Even when I sit down to pray, my mind doesn’t stop whirring. I shut my eyes—as if this were a switch that makes me instantly present to God—and, without wasting a minute, I shout over the din of the waves and strain to hear Christ’s voice in the tumult.
But when I read this story again, Jesus whispers to my busy mind, Peace! Be still.
It takes time to become still. There is no way to hasten the process; Jesus knows that. But eventually my soul quiets down.
What does God do in this stillness? Who knows? For when I am finally at peace, I entertain neither thought nor feeling, so I have nothing to report. But when I think about it afterwards, I notice a delightful warmth residing in my chest. In the days that follow, I discover new freedoms.
I can imagine that as I waited for the waves to settle, the Holy Spirit hovered closer and closer then finally came to rest on the still surface of my soul.
Calm the waves of this heart, O God;
calm its tempests.
Calm yourself, O my soul,
so that God is able to rest in you,
so that God’s peace may cover you.
Yes, you give us peace, O God,
peace that the whole world can never take away.
—Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855)
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God can accomplish so much love mischief by seeding a desire for stillness in us. Many years ago the Imbach brothers followed that desire and went for spiritual direction. Little did they know then what would unfold. Eventually they began to offer spiritual direction and teach it to others and ended up founding a dispersed contemplative community that offers spiritual direction to the world. Here’s how it got started.