The day is still, and the day is warm. Morning birds have settled into their day, chipmunks run across the warming asphalt with their tails held high. I watch but do not listen, deciding to quiet the world with earplugs, not letting the noise of engines or planes or power tools grab my attention. I have a tenuous grasp on focus this morning and do not want the slightest push to distract.
The other day I heard a dog barking and looked out to see two coyotes hanging around the neighbor’s fence. They seemed friendly enough, the dog was barking and wagging its tail. Such deception is common, and the coyotes were likely looking for a way past the gate, so as to expose their more pragmatic interests. As is my occasional habit in these parts I went outside in my bare feet and walked the forty yards to the fence. I whistled when I was halfway, getting the coyotes’ attention. One ran, one didn’t raise its head. So, I walked closer, whistle again, and this time the coyote took notice and trotted away. Not all the way away, just out of sight in the ravine. I went back home. They were back by the time I sat down again in my room. So out I went, jogging towards them now. The dog was barking at me, bothered by my intrusion. One left, not to be seen again, the other stood on a small rise and stared at me, determining me. I ran at it, it ran away. Not all the way away. It was back by the time I sat down again in my room. One more time out and back, then the neighbors themselves came home and I figured my stint as a coyote irritater was over.
So, this morning I block out the noise of potential dog barking, homeowners adding, or hobbyists hobbying. I miss the bird songs and the chirping chipmunk but such sacrifices are occasionally in order.
“How is the book coming along?” she asked.
This is a curious question because it is one I love to hear asked and one which I don’t really have an acceptable answer to give.
So, while I could have hemmed and hawed I decided to be openly honest and say, “good question.”
So, I hemmed and hawed a little bit before I decided to be openly honest.
“To be honest,” I finally said so as to set apart my hemming and hawing, “it’s not going so well. I’ve been a little discouraged about it ever since a recommended manuscript service sent off what amounts to an abstract to about seventy different publishers via their monthly newsletter. Even though this service, recommended by IVP, validated my manuscript as quite publishable, not a single publisher even got in touch with me. So, I’ve fallen off in my writing as I try to figure out what hurdle to overcome, and then try to overcome it.”
I didn’t say these very words, as what I did say had a lot more pronouns and vague concepts already discussed, which wouldn’t explain the point of my sentence in this present description.
“I have a biography problem,” I said, these words actually being said. “And in writing about spirituality I find that God is presently insisting I learn more about spirtuality, finding wholeness first before I move forward.”
This is true, at least it is how I perceive my present pursuit. Writing as training has been somewhat replaced by training in the depths of the faith, an alternating exercise pointing me towards some fruition and purpose. In writing I developed a burgeoning skill, now I must refocus on the foundation which will utilize that skill for some potential purpose.
This spirituality has taken shape over the last month as I find a new name for what it is I am seeking.
Simply defined this is a “watchful, inner stillness”. Most discussions of such center on the centering prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me.” There is more to the reality than this and this reality is summed up in the more approachable word “stillness”.
Our souls are frenetic things, constantly in movement, constantly provoking or defending or attacking or stumbling. This is easily seen upon stopping a moment and trying to come to real terms with our inner being. It’s a mess. From this inner frenzy our outward actions take shape. Even the spiritual tasks become marked by this inner hysteric. The Spiritual Disciplines themselves are tools engaged by an uncalmed soul. In the pursuit of maturation we become slaves of this inner immaturity, mistaking its voice for some spiritual demand.
It is in stillness, however, that we hear the whispers of the Spirit. This isn’t just about stopping to watch the birds flutter or gaze at a cloud going by or staring at one’s navel for hours. This is a profound stillness in which the constant movement of our inner being is allowed to come to a complete rest.
Until recently I didn’t even know this was an issue in humanity. I knew the joy of rest and prayer and contemplation but I never approached the reality of stillness in which the fullness of God can really be present. I never knew I had a frenetic soul which needed to be slowed. I raged and mourned and fought and stumbled, wandering my way along the path in a drunken lurch because it was how I saw everyone else walking.
A year and a half after I come to the mountains I begin to taste of the call and wisdom of profound stillness in my life, finding in this a potential for my own purpose. If I can find stillness, I can be a tool for others to find stillness. If I can rest my soul, I can calm the souls of others. If I can apprehend peace in this place, I can bring peace to wherever I go. But first I must find this stillness in my present reality and bathe in its eternal richness.
The Hesychist is not simply one who prays a specific way. A hesychist is one who relates in a specific way, who has found the stillness in prayer and whatever manner calms and focuses the frenetic soul. For me, one of the most profound disciplines has been two-fold. It is the humility found in the letting go. I am not near the most disciplined of people, and others trounce me in their devotion. What I have done is let go of the demands other place on me, letting go my ambitions in the face of public scorn so as to find my ambitions fully realized in Christ. This is terribly humbling.
How do I talk to someone and explain my situation? I do so only with humility, and as this humility takes shape in my soul, the frenzy begins to die, my soul is calmed and lifted up even as it is depressed and pushed downwards. I can become because I have let go. I can be a servant because I have abandoned notions of being the master. I can rest, I can wait, I can find peace as there is no longer that ladder before me to climb. I’ve let go the ladder, and the ladder has fallen to the ground.
In this is the beginning of the stillness which I am beginning to taste. In this stillness is the fullness of being which I see can transform my reality from temporal to eternal, and in doing so allow me to enter into the fullness of life which the Spirit enables. As I find this stillness, I will become myself, and in this I will find conversations, relationships, dreams, and fruition.
It all begins with the letting go, and it is this full letting go which is so difficult as to be impossible without the insistence of the Spirit who works so it can work.
In this stillness will be the secret to my writing, and will be the inspiration of this fuller reality which God ordains. How this works out will not be a specific issue because in all things I will find the stillness which is at the root of the frenzied soul’s ambition.
Such a pursuit takes a lifetime. So, I am glad to finally learn what I should pursue. I suspect I will not be long in these mountains and in discovering this here I can take this lesson to wherever my pursuits next bring me.