Prayer: Breath in God’s mercies…Breath out God’s mercies on others (3x)1Week three, our final week (not counting church family camp) of examining our often worried filled lives, while contemplating Jesus’ words: Don’t worry, set your heart on God’s kingdom, and all these things will be given you as well.
And finally I get a chance to tell the joke I’d been waiting to tell since we started: What lies at the bottom of the ocean and twitches? A nervous wreck.
Often our lives are so full of worry because we’ve got so much going on inside our minds and all around us that we begin to sink; we get overwhelmed with all the many things to do, and because we wonder if any of it really matters.
When we look at Jesus’ life we see that he was busy: Mark 1:32-39:
The whole city was gathered around the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons….In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
His companions hunted for him. And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in synagogues and casting out demons. Jesus was busy…we’re busy..but some of you may have noticed last week that I kind of skipped over a verse that really sticks out about Jesus daily life:
In the morning, before dawn,
he slipped out of bed, went off by himself, and there he prayed.
Which leads us to this morning’s topic: How do we get from our worry filled life to the life of the Spirit? Do we just wait for the Spirit to blow away our worries?
Is there anything we can do, right now that will help us have less worry in our lives? Just what we need, another thing to add to our to do list. If we look at Jesus life, we see that he was always listening for God’s voice; seeking to do the will of the Father. And we read in 1 Kings, the prophet Elijah did not encounter God in the mighty wind or in the earthquake or in the fire, but in the small voice (see 1 Kings 19:9-13). But how do we find space in our lives where it is quiet enough to listen for this small still voice?
Frankly, Our lives are absurd. We’re bombarded by outer noises and distractions: tv. radio, phones, computers. As well as the inner noises: our worries, fears, voices from our past, concerns about the future. Absurd! In the word absurd we find the Latin word surdus, (sordo) which means “deaf.” We’ve become deaf, even if God called to us with a mega phone we’d probably miss it: “What’d you say God? Hang on the phone’s ringing.”
Father Henry Nouwen,2 who’s been our guide these past weeks, suggests that we need discipline… [obedience last week, discipline this week—wpc boot camp] …spiritual discipline, so that we can learn to listen to God. God constantly speaks, we rarely hear. When we learn to listen, our lives become obedient lives. nother Latin lesson: the word obedient comes from the Latin word audire, which means “listening.” With spiritual discipline we may move slowly from absurdity to obedience, from a life filled with noise to a life with some quiet inner space ready to listen to our God.
Jesus was obedient because he was always listening, always attentive to God’s voice. Jesus was “all ears.” That is true prayer: being all ears for God. Makes me think differently about prayer…instead of me filling empty space with bubbling words, prayer becomes quiet listening, obediently before the presence of God who prays in us.
But, I’ve got a problem, obedience and discipline are hard for me, have been since I was a kid: Always on my progress report in elementary school… you’d see decent grades…you’d see Satisfactory marks in most areas, but when it came to “Follows directions/ Listens well” there was always an N, non-satsifactory!
But if there is something I can do to have less worry in my life…I’ll consider it.
If there is something I can do to grow closer to my God…I want to do it!
Nouwen, proposes two disciplines that may help us to “set our hearts on the kingdom.” Disciplines of prayer. Solitude and Community. Today we’re just going to focus on solitude, and at church-family camp we’ll pick up on the other.
It was pretty cool. At Thursday’s bible study, we were talking about things that we could do that would draw us closer to God, that would help us to become better listeners for God’s voice, and everyone agreed that a time of quiet solitude was the key! Can we live a spiritual life without solitude? Everyone pretty much said it would be really hard. Just as it is pretty hard to practice solitude! But everyone considered it essential in our walk with God. We explored what solitude looks like. A time and place for God alone. Jesus said, “Go to your private room and, when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place.”3
How we spend this time in solitude can be as different for each of us as we are different from each other. It could be the corner of a room in our home—even a large closet—a comfortable chair outside; a quiet walk. Postures will vary: kneeling, sitting, downward dog. You may place objects in this space: a cross, a candle, a plant, flowers, or bible verses. Nouwen says, The simpler we keep it the better; simple posture that is comfortable. An uncluttered place is better; and the more consistent we are the better. A daily practice of ten minutes of solitude is probably better than a whole hour once in a while. But we have to decide how this discipline best fits us, so we can remain faithful.
Easier said than done. Alone, No one to talk with; just there, nothing to do no books to read, no TV to watch, no phone calls to make or receive. This makes me nervous, and in silence an inner chaos opens up. All that noise inside us that we don’t hear because of all the noise going on outside us…comes to the surface. A chaos so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again.
This is what happens when I lie down to take a nap. I close my eyes and my mind gets flooded by all the things I should be doing…SO I get up. This inner chaos is what Trasie’s cousin Drew experienced when he came over to our house to spend the night. He was 16 at the time, and while he thought we were pretty cool, he thought it was really weird that we didn’t have a tv. When it came time to go to bed, he and I were sitting in his room talking, and when I started to leave he got really nervous…Um Chester, you think I could watch a movie on the computer or something, I don’t want to be left in here by myself, without out something, with just my thoughts…I get freaked out by my thoughts.
Entering a quiet space with no tv or music doesn’t mean that we shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings, and impulsive desires. Wonderful suggestions about how to treat these distractions were given by the Thursday noon bible study group:
Sherl said that she puts distractions on a moving picture screen and eventually they just move along out of her mind.
Joseph said that when he first moves into that quiet place, he envisions a storm that is all the distractions that would fill his mind…and in his mind he calms the storm and the distractions go away. Focusing on breath is something else that was mentioned. Breath in God’s mercies, Breath out God’s mercies on others. Maybe we recite a psalm Christel suggested Psalm 23; we can think of a parable or a favorite bible story; maybe we memorize a saying of Jesus, or a word of Paul, Peter, or Mary, (I couldn’t resist this distraction!)
“One of the early Christian writers describes the first state of solitary prayer as the experience of a man who, after years of living with open doors, suddenly decides to shut them. The visitors who used to come and enter his home start pounding on his doors, wondering why they are not allowed to enter. Only when they realized that they are not welcome do they gradually stop coming. This is the experience of anyone who decides to enter into solitude after a life without much spiritual discipline. At first, the many distractions keep presenting themselves. Later, as they receive less and less attention, they slowly withdraw.”4
We just have to stick to it and trust that these inner distractions will go away. All this to help us to focus our attention on God’s presence. At the end of this time of quiet dwelling with God we may, prayer for people who are part of our lives, friends as well as enemies. And why not conclude with the words that Jesus himself taught us: the Our Father?
Easier said than done? Yoga master Rodney Yee, who is on the DVD Trasie and I have says of his yoga exercises: “In the beginning the benefits of these exercises may seem small, but as you continue I believe you will find the rewards are truly great.”5 It’s the same way with this discipline. During the first days, weeks, or even months, it may feel like a waste of time. I’ve been attempting to practice solitude for the past several weeks, (trying to practice what I preach). It’s tough.
There are too many reasons not to be alone, so many things to do. But Nouwen assures us that when we stick to our discipline, in the conviction that God is with us even when we do not yet hear, we slowly discover that we do not want to miss our time alone with God. Although we do not experience much satisfaction in our solitude, we realize that a day without solitude is less “spiritual” than a day with it. “And eventually, our hearts become like quiet cells where God can dwell, wherever we go and whatever we do.” We can recognize God even in the midst of a busy and active life. Our hearts become set on God, our distractions and worries are transformed into something new.
Can we handle five or ten minutes a day? Maybe some are ready or already spend an hour a day, an afternoon a week, a day every month, or a week every year. Make it part of your schedule, if anyone tries to schedule something during that time…you can say, “Sorry I’ve got another appointment at that time…and then under your breath…with God.”
Solitude is one discipline Nouwen proposes. ‘Through the discipline of solitude we discover space for God in our innermost being.” I’ve also put in the insert other practices which may help to bring quiet to our lives, and give us rest.
What we’re hoping for in our lives, what we’re trying to accomplish is to allow the presence of God to become real for us in all we do, say, or think. It is then that our hearts become focused on God’s kingdom and our worries slowly are transformed into something new.
I want to conclude by saying that I’m really blown away by this idea of not worrying and setting our hearts on God’s kingdom. I do worry a lot. I worry about my actions. I worry about hurting someone by doing or saying the wrong thing. I worry about what others think of me. I worry about what God may think of me. I have a fear of failure and deep desire to be successful (whatever that means). And at times I become a nervous wreck. But as I have begun these practices and really given thought to this concept of not worrying; of looking at birds and flowers and how God cares for these things. I realize that God cares for me too. And that as I seek to set my heart on God’s kingdom, I discover that the intentions of my heart what really matter. DO I have a pure heart with pure intentions? Is it my intention to hurt someone or offend someone by what I say or do? Am I genuinely trying to seek God’s will in my life and in other’s lives? If so, do I have to fear failure or worry so much about what others may think of me.
So I think that has been the biggest thing I’ve learned during this time….and I think I am worrying less because of it, especially when I see birds in the air, and lilies in the field.
I pray that you too have come away from this time with less worry and more focus on God’s kingdom!
If you’d like, write down a commitment you’d like to make to spending time in solitude. And you can put it in the offering plate, show it to a friend or family member, or take it home with you. But give it a shot if you’re not already doing so..and my god find a dwelling place in your heart.
1 Prayer offered by Rodger Nishioka before classes began at Columbia Theological Seminary.
2 For this three unit series based on Matthew 6:25-34, I have used Henry Nouwen’s book, Making All Things New as a guide.
3 (Matthew 6:6).
4 Nouwen, Making All Things New, p.
5 Rodney Yee, Beginner’s YOGA,” DVD edition by GAIAM.