Buzz, Creak, Whir

gearsBe still and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the Earth.
Psalm 46:10 (NRSV)

But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

Mark 4:38-40 (NRSV)

When I first started doing “quiet times,” I would turn the TV off with that weird laser sound that non-flat-screen-TVs used to make.

Zwooop.

I would slide the on/off switch on the radio or CD player.

Click. Click.

And finally, when it’s eerily quiet alone in my room, the only sound I can really hear is the ambient noise that sounds like my house is having a bowel movement.

Bzzzz. Creeeeaak. Whrrrrrrrr.

“Quiet time” was a corded-off segment of my day, reserved for personal devotions, reading scripture, and prayer. An optimal “quiet time” included my removal from extraneous sounds. “Quiet time” was a discipline of settling external noise to meet God privately. It was Me-and-God time.

Then, of course, when all was silent, after I had read some Scripture or a devotion/reflection on Scripture, I bowed my head, closed my eyes, and prayed in my heart without speaking.

Blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH.

Amen.

A musician friend of mine has the gift of perfect pitch. If you’re unfamiliar with perfect pitch, it means that he can hear a baby mashing keys randomly on a piano and, by the sound, tell you exactly what notes are being mutilated. A few months ago, I asked him what living with perfect pitch was like.

“For me, I hear distinct notes and tones and recognize them, in the same way that you see different colors.” The synesthetic description gave me a better sense of what sound can be like.

I mention this because my first instinct, when practicing “quiet times,” was to ensure the lack of literal sound. But internally, the time was not quiet.

When I’m praying, my mind is noisy with opinions, plans, joys, fears, celebrations, anxieties, and other miscellany. Even without sound, the way God hears my “quiet time” is probably the way we would hear a thrash metal concert on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange during a hurricane. At my very best, my “quiet time” prayer is a rambling soliloquy.

Because God can wait ‘til I’m done.

In one of my favorite anecdotes about Mother Teresa, an interviewer asked her what sorts of things she says to God when she prays.

“I don’t talk. I just listen.”

The reporter, slightly baffled, then asked her what God says to her.

“He doesn’t talk. He just listens.”

Of all the people in the world to warrant having a noisy soul, Mother Teresa, living among the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, tending to the mortally sick, lonely, homeless, and hungry, was at the top of the list. However, in spite of all the tumult that could have occupied her heart, she sought nothing but silence of her soul, praying, in the presence of God. Many older Christian traditions refer to this sort of practice as meditation or contemplation.

It is a humbling aspiration: to want the presence of God for God’s sake, not because we need something from God. And what an even greater aspiration still, to willingly sit with God amidst the thrashing thunder, that wind, and sea.

As we approach Good Friday and Easter, I dwell a little more on the sacrifice required for me to come before the God who quieted my storms. And I think of how my heart still responds to noise and turbulence with more noise and turbulence.

I think of how it is that much more important for me to seek stillness and silence.

Yet, this is probably one of the most difficult spiritual disciplines one can engage in: to do, hear, and say nothing and to simply sit with God. Within seconds, my mind immediately turns on again and easily gets distracted.

Below are just a few tips on quieting my soul and meditating that I’ve used and some that are borrowed from friends.

  • Meditate on a single word, or short passage of scripture and repeat it to yourself, slowly, over and over again.
  • Take deep and slow breaths, focusing on breathing, or even counting. Closing your eyes can help too sometimes (less visual distraction).
  • Recognize when you’re being distracted in your own mind, and reset yourself to start again.
  • Practice with shorter intervals to start, maybe a minute or two, then practice on extending that time gradually.

“The true contemplative is not one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but is one who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect to anticipate the words that will transform his darkness into light. He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation. He does not demand light instead of darkness. He waits on the Word of God in silence, and, when he is “answered”, it is not so much by a word that bursts into his silence. It is by his silence itself, suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.” –Thomas Merton

Written by Patrick J

Patrick J

Patrick J. lives in Washington, D.C. and makes coffee sometimes. He is an insufferable fan of Boston sports and his favorite listicle is “The Top Ten Commandments to Follow And Why” by Moses, originally published on stone tablets. You can send cat or hedgehog photos to patrick@perissosblog.org

About Patrick J

Patrick J. lives in Washington, D.C. and makes coffee sometimes. He is an insufferable fan of Boston sports and his favorite listicle is “The Top Ten Commandments to Follow And Why” by Moses, originally published on stone tablets. You can send cat or hedgehog photos to patrick@perissosblog.org

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