I realized this morning its hard to breathe when you are holding your breath. I have a medical test tomorrow that I’m anxious about and as I sat in the humid darkness this morning, I realized I wasn’t really breathing. Fear makes me breathe shallow, and fast, without a sense of spaciousness.
I then I remembered Wayne Muller’s invitation from the Sabbath Retreat: say the name of God (Yah-weh) long, and slow, like a huge exhale. I did that a couple times and found myself opening toward the awareness of the promises of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…” This is also the Psalm that reads: ““Be still, and know that I am God!”
Breathing, presence, assurance, and stillness – today’s lesson to remind myself I live by the grace of a loving God. Hopefully I can remember this tomorrow too.
I’m sitting on the beach, having just gotten my UV-protecting umbrella situated just right. The chair is set up perfectly in the shade. The sunscreen has been applied liberally. A deep breath emerges from somewhere near the bottom of my soul. And the woman lying next to me, about 4 feet away, starts singing out loud to the song she is listening to on her phone, earbuds firmly in place. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard an animal in pain in my life but let me tell you – I now have an inkling of what it might be like. This woman could sing at all. And here I am, growing ever more frustrated, with a choice: gather all my stuff and move or pray to God something really foul happens to this American Idol wannabe. I’m at the beach, working on breathing and being still and being open to ‘what is’ and this is my lesson – a tuneless screecher jamming in her own version of Nirvana.
As I decided to head for the water and ‘float this one out’ I realized (again) the world is a noisy place. Finding stillness is something we need to cultivate within. Needless to say, I have a L-O-N-G way to go, especially at the beach.
PS – When I got out of the water, she was gone! Yeah for answered prayers!
Usually when I want to ‘step away’ from the rigors of pastoring, I go somewhere by myself. I love being near big water or in the high desert – someplace with minimal interruptions, no cell service, and lots of interesting places to walk or sit and wait upon the Lord. This last time I stepped away, I spent time with my friend and his family in Sarasota. The time my friend and I spent talking about ministry, life, the energy it takes to do pastoral work, and how he structures his week was one of the richest times away I’ve ever had. I came home with several ideas that I’ve already put into place: do not schedule anything on Monday, its a day for calendar review and planning ahead; carry a small notebook and a pen with you, you never know when the Spirit will whisper; and every now and then, you just need to spend the money on a GOOD bottle of wine, simply because it is good. For someone who is a complete and total introvert who loves being alone, I learned that Matthew 18:20 is true: “…where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” Thanks be to God. And thanks be to really good friends.
“Be still, and know that I am God!” ~Psalm 46:10
One of the things Wayne Muller repeatedly pointed out at the Ghost Ranch Sabbath Retreat is that we get this beautiful, simple line from Scripture all wrong. We tend to emphasize the ‘knowing’ part: Be still, and KNOW that I am God.
But the Scripture has an exclamation point, and Wayne’s encouragement was to read it correctly: Be still, and know that I AM GOD! It is a reminder for us all to realize WE ARE NOT GOD, only God is God. And stillness helps us open to the reality that we are not in charge; we cannot control the outcomes. Stillness helps us breathe into the reality of our finitude and the limits of our agency. In stillness we humble ourselves before the vastness of creation and the awesomeness of God.
I’ve just finished a Sabbath Retreat with Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (among many other wonderful books). There where eight of us gathered at Ghost Ranch in the beautiful desert of NW New Mexico. I love Ghost Ranch with it’s multicolored canyons and expansive vistas. It is the land of Georgia O’Keeffe’s muse and thousands of years of human habitation. It is a thin place. When I go, I sit for hours, just breathing deep and feeling myself steep in the Holiness of the place.
Sitting at the feet of Wayne Muller was such a delight. His insights, wisdom, passion, and commitment to truth, presence, Sabbath, and exhaling into an awareness of what is real will inform my posts for a while as I unpack the richness of four full days. I look forward to sharing and reflecting upon the insights and thoughts that bubbled up while sitting in the desert.
Some time back, in book group, we had a good discussion about ‘the committee’ – the group of negative voices that live in our heads and demean us and remind us of every failure and how stupid we are, etc.
In the midst of that discussion, we also talked about how ‘spiritual practices’ (like sitting in stillness and keeping the Sabbath) can help us ‘walk out of the committee room and close the door.’ Spiritual practices help us learn how to walk away from the negative self-talk and into freedom and being loved.
At one point I offered an idea for a t-shirt: don’t join my committee, be my friend! We laughed about the idea, but the more I think about it, being able to discern between ‘committee’ and ‘friend’ is an important spiritual discipline. Recognizing that someone or some situation provokes ‘the committee’ into action is an important step in learning how to walk away into freedom and love. I believe with practice (recognition, stillness, Sabbath, etc.) we can keep the doors to the committee room closed and live more freely as those loved by God.
And not only do I need to discern about the voices within and those that are coming toward me, but I have also realized that I have a choice in the life of those around me: committee member or friend? Sitting in stillness is teaching me how to be more friendly to myself and a better friend to others.
Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives is a rich resource for anyone wanting to slow down, breathe deeper, and rediscover the joy of the Loving Presence residing within us all.
Early in his book he writes:
Like a path through the forest, Sabbath creates a marker for ourselves so, if we are lost, we can find our way back to our center. “Remember the Sabbath” means “Remember that everything you have received is a blessing. Remember to delight in your life, in the fruits of your labor. Remember to stop and offer thanks for the wonder of it.” Remember, as if we would forget. Indeed, the assumption is that we will forget. And history has proven that, given enough time, we will. (p.6)
The commandment is simple: Remember the Sabbath. Muller’s notion is that all too often we forget. We forget to slow down, to turn off the phone, the computer, the television. We forget to light candles, say prayers, eat meals together, bless the children, make love. We forget to be open to the stillness of God’s deepest joy. And in all our forgetting, we forget who, and whose, we are. We forget we are loved.
Sabbath is a time to remember, to re-member, to call ourselves back to a simple place – undistracted, undistrurbed, and unburdened with the cares of the world – in order to feel God’s Loving Presence at work in who we are. Sabbath is a time to rest, a time to renew, and a time to delight.
Remember the Sabbath!
Over the course of the past several weeks, I’ve been leading a book group at church on Wayne Muller’s Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight In Our Busy Lives in anticipation of heading to Ghost Ranch in New Mexico to attend a Sabbath Retreat led by Muller himself.
A week at Ghost Ranch is always a treat. The desert mountains around Abiquiu, NM are amazing. I’m looking forward to long, quiet walks among the trees and bushes of the desert. For some reason, the terrain speaks to my soul – deep, peaceful, alive!
Sabbath is a time for rest, renewal, and being delighted by God’s grace. The first lines in Muller’s classic reads: “In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest. All life requires a rhythm of rest.” Sabbath helps me rest the rhythm of work and rest. It always amazes me how rich my intention retreat time ‘away’ from St. Louis is. In the rhythms of my work, I easily lose sight of the richness of grace that pervades all of life.
The Benedictines invite us to think about life as ora et labora, prayer and work – a balance between tending the Holy in stillness and then tending the Holy in action. Muller invites us to consider expanding the Benedictine dictum to: ora et labora et quietem. Yes, just like it sounds: prayer and work AND quiet (or rest).