being useless and silent

We need quiet time in the presence of God. Although we want to make all our time time for God, we will never succeed if we do not reserve a minute, an hour, a morning, a day, a week, a month, or whatever period of time, for God and God alone.

This asks for much discipline and risk taking because we always seem to have something more urgent to do and “just sitting there” and “doing nothing” often disturbs us more than it helps. But there is no way around this. Being useless and silent in the presence of our God belongs to the core of all prayer.

In the beginning we often hear our own unruly inner noises more loudly than God’s voice. This is at times very hard to tolerate. But slowly, very slowly, we discover that the silent time makes us quiet and deepens our awareness of ourselves and God.

Then, very soon, we start missing these moments when we are deprived of them, and before we are fully aware of it an inner momentum has developed that draws us more and more into silence and closer to that still point where God speaks to us.

Henri J. M. Nouwen, Reaching Out

find me

[a poem by SSU ministry student, Jessica Williams]:

Find me in the Darkest Night
wide awake
afraid of flight
praying to the God of Light
to find me.

Find me when my head’s bowed low
turned from Love
and all that glows
when shadowlands have gathered slow
to find me.

Find me in the shame that grips
when ancient roots
arise and trip
eroding paths I thought
were sent to guide me.

Find me where the Thistles Bloom
as Pain and Beauty
together move
holding space, creating room
within my heart
to find You.

It is there I recognize
You’ve been inside
Every Eye
that’s come along
beneath this Sky
to find me.

We will name them
large and small
I am held
within them all
even as I rise and fall
to find You.

Help me then to keep my gaze
on what is here
within this Place.
This is where I know your Grace,
this is where I see your Face,

this is how I find You.

– Jessica Williams

a good question

[This is the other poem that Rachael shared with us at last week’s talk on uncertainty and questions:]

A Good Question

Never underestimate the power of a question.
Don’t dismiss it as mere herald to the all-powerful answer,
Or despise its uncertainty as feeble or unsafe.

A good question is full of life.
It bursts with the curiosity and promise of undiscovered worlds.
Its key turns the lock of never-opened doors.

So don’t let your own question spill heedlessly from your mouth.
Instead, turn it,
Like a hard toffee between tongue and teeth.
Savour, smooth and hone it.

Hold and admire it, a wild bird balanced on your faltering hand,
And when you release it to another’s charge,
Be ready for it to return to you unfamiliar,
Changed beyond recognition,
And pulling in directions you did not predict or desire.

Learn to listen,
Just listen,
And to let answers be extended questions.

Likewise, when another’s question comes to you,
Don’t push it away if an answer does not spring instantly, comfortingly, to mind;
For this question’s gift was fashioned in the ferment of someone else’s strange soul.

A question should be given space
To roam through forgotten rooms.
Perhaps at first it will seem to bounce like a discarded rubber ball,
Its lonely thud echoing against the emptiness of abandoned space,
Bareness of untrodden floorboards.

But refrain from picking it up to thrust again into a cosy pocket,
And its ricochet will knock open closets,
spill chests,
split windows,
Drawing invisible arcs to connect random points,
Until the tangle of lines
Suddenly
Reveals a picture.

This picture you may pick up
And wonderingly exhibit,
Or carefully fold to store in your heart’s chest.

But the question?
Let the question bound on…

  • Rachael Barham – Saturday 29th December 2012

practicing attention

[one final passage from Barbara Brown Taylor}:

Reverence may take all kinds of forms, depending on what it is that awakens awe in you by reminding you of your true size. As I learned on that night of falling stars in Ohio, nature is a good place to start. Nature is full of things bigger and more powerful than human beings, including but not limited to night skies, oceans, thunderstorms, deserts, grizzly bears, earthquakes, and rain-swollen rivers. But size is not everything. Properly attended to, even a saltmarsh mosquito is capable of evoking reverence. See those white and black striped stockings on legs thinner than a needle? Where in those legs is there room for knees? And yet see how they bend, as the bug lowers herself to your flesh. Soon you and she will be blood kin. Your itch is the price of her life. Swat her if you must but not without telling her she is beautiful first.

The easiest practice of reverence I know is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes. It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate….

With any luck, you will soon begin to see….You may begin to hear… to smell… to notice and feel the textures of….

You may even feel the beating of your own heart, that miracle of ingenuity that does its work with no thought or instruction from you. You did not make your heart, any more than you made a tree. You are a guest here. You have been given a free pass to this modest domain and everything in it….

The practice of paying attention really does take time. Most of us move so quickly that our surroundings become no more than a blurred scenery we fly past on our way to somewhere else. We pay attention to the speedometer, the wristwatch, the cell phone, the list of things to do, all of which feed our illusion that life is manageable. Meanwhile, none of them meets the first criterion for reverence, which is to remind us that we are not gods. If anything, these devices sustain the illusion that we might yet be gods – if only we could find some way to do more faster.

Reverence requires a certain pace.

– Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World

attention and reverence

[more from Barbara Brown Taylor]:

According to the classical philosopher Paul Woodruff, reverence is the virtue that keeps people from trying to act like gods. “To forget that you are only human,” he says, “to think you can act like a god – this is the opposite of reverence.” While most of us live in a culture that reveres money, reveres power, reveres education and religion, Woodruff argues that true reverence cannot be for anything that human beings can make or manage by ourselves.

By definition, he says, reverence is the recognition of something greater than the self – something that is beyond human creation or control, that transcends full human understanding. God certainly meets those criteria, but so do birth, death, sex, nature, truth, justice, wisdom. A Native American elder I know says that he begins teaching people reverence by steering them over to the nearest tree.

“Do you know that you didn’t make this tree?” he asks them. If they say yes, then he knows that they are on their way.

Reverence stands in awe of something – something that dwarfs the self, that allows human beings to sense the full extent of our limits – so that we can begin to see one another more reverently as well.

– Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World