Imposing Silence Upon Our Cares

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Photography by Jennifer Blackwell

The only people who pray well are those who keep praying!
— Richard Rohr

Sometimes you just need to get away. You need to push back from your daily grind and be in a space that gives you life-restoring energy. The place may be a mountaintop or beside a sea. The place you love might be on a sailboat watching the changing colors of the sky. The need is a time of contemplation although I admit that contemplation is easier said than done.

Richard Rohr describes contemplation using the frightening word, “dying,” something we usually do not want to consider. Still his definition is compelling.

Contemplative prayer is one way to practice imposing “silence upon our cares, our desires and our imaginings.” Contemplative practice might be five or twenty minutes of “dying,” of letting go of the small mind in order to experience the big mind, of letting go of the false self in order to experience the True Self, of letting go of the illusion of our separation from God in order to experience our inherent union.

I am intrigued by the phrases “imposing silence upon our cares!” dying” and “letting go of the illusion of our separation from God.” We readily recall words we have long known: “Be still, and know that I am God,” and we know that we can move into God’s real and palpable presence. Still moving into God’s presence and lingering there is easier said than done. We are slaves to our lives, to our every day concerns and responsibilities. And sometimes times our responsibilities — though they may be important to us — take too much from us, robbing us of our life’s spiritual depth.

Again, Richard Rohr offers deep wisdom:

Each day that dawns is a celebration of the fact that we have been invited to consider how our lives are spent; how we embrace and recoil from the . . . darkness.

So for me, I would like to watch the hued, expansive skies — the moving clouds and the sparkle of the sun. I would like to find silence in the vastness of God’s creation, in a place where my view includes the beauty of verdant green pastures, the sound of the never-ending surf, the feel of the wind in my face, the shadows cast upon a high mountain. It takes the beauty of such a place to calm my spirit and stop the whirring of my mind. In such a place, I can try to enter into the posture of prayer and contemplation.

Don’t be fooled. Contemplation is called a practice because it truly is a practice that we must try again and again. Contemplation is not easy for many of us. It can even be disconcerting because, in truth, contemplation is meeting as much reality as we can handle in its most simple and immediate form — without filters, judgments, or commentaries. Contemplation moves us to the space our soul craves, and in that place we gain a renewal of our spirit.

Anything worth doing is worth practicing for as much or as long as it takes. Yes, at times it feels like forcing ourselves to be still for an interminable length of time and to force ourselves to fully concentrate on petitioning and listening prayer. No doubt, being silent with ourselves can be frightening. “Imposing silence upon our cares” can be threatening. But in the practice of contemplation we can hear God’s whisper clearer and sense God’s presence more deeply and fully.

I wish for you the time and space you need, the time to take in the breathtaking beauty of God’s creation, the stilling of your mind and the calming of your spirit that can guide you into the presence of God.

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

— From Psalm 46 (NRSV)

Who will move this mountain?

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Who will move this mountain? I’m referring to the high, steep mountain that includes hundreds of processes that might eventually (possibly, probably) lead to a kidney transplant for me. So which is it, I keep asking myself? Is a kidney transplant possible? Is it probable? Is it a done deal?

I know with pretty much certainty that having a kidney transplant is never a done deal. The possibility of a kidney transplant for anyone is always tenuous. The possibility of having a donor is even more tenuous. I keep repeating the description offered by Piedmont transplant nephrologist, Dr. Christina Klein: “99% of people who call with interest in donating are screened out by phone and 50% of the people who do the full-day evaluation are screened out.” With deep gratitude, I can say that the person who has offered to be my living donor has passed through both of these screenings and has been accepted as a donor. It is no small thing for a living donor and a recipient to both be determined healthy enough for a transplant.

Piedmont Transplant Institute personnel spent the day yesterday testing me to determine if I’m still healthy enough for a transplant. They do a re-evaluation every two years for persons on the transplant list. It was probably the last re-evaluation I will have before a transplant surgery date is determined.

I said all of that to say that, as always, I think of God as the one who moves these kinds of obstacle mountains. I am standing at the base of a pretty big one this time, looking up at the peak and whispering to myself, “Impossible!”

But that’s not the end of the story, is it? For me, the story aways ends with sacred words that remind me who has the control, who it is that can move this mountain. Sacred words about moving life’s mountains can be found in all three Synoptic Gospels — Matthew, Luke and Mark. The Gospel writers make multiple references that go to the question of who moves mountains, as told by Jesus in parable. Interestingly, Jesus never says, “God will move your mountain.” Instead the words of Jesus in the parables go something like this:

If you had faith even as small as a tiny mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move!’ and it would go far away. Nothing would be impossible to you.

— Mark 17:20 (TLB)

What? Can this be true? That God does not move the mountain after all. That it has everything to do with faith, even my very small mustard-seed-like faith. Is it true that I am my own mountain mover? That nothing is impossible?

In reading this Scripture text that is so familiar, it seems that perhaps I am the one who can say to this mountain, “Move!” Without stretching this Gospel text beyond its original intent, I can affirm that its message is about faith, and that message is timeless. It can begin as a thought that Jesus expresses in parable and end up as a reality of faith that empowers my life and quickens my journey.

So stand with me at the bottom of this mountain. Look up at the mountain with me and pray that my mustard-seed faith will get me to the peak. I may very well receive the gift of a kidney transplant. It seems very possible at this point in my five-year journey. But whatever happens, my faith will be with me — sustaining me, guiding me, empowering me still for every future mountain that raises up before me.

For this faith that was born in me decades ago, thanks be to God.

 

 

 

Can’t Stay on the Mountaintop

909AB186-15E1-4DA7-9027-5FC7B28578BDChrist-followers will always know ascent and descent, knowing and not-knowing. I can recall so many spiritual retreats that ended too soon, leaving me with a reluctance to go back into ordinary time. I wanted to stay in the place where God’s Spirit was moving within me. But every single time, I had to go home, leaving the mountaintop of my transformative spiritual experience.

In the Scriptures, two companion pieces tell of a “God experience.” Moses on Mount Sinai and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. When Moses is on Mount Sinai, God is somehow manifest in thick darkness. “You saw no shape on that day at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 4:15) Moses “sees” and “hears” to some degree, yet YHWH does not allow Moses to see God’s “glory” or “face.” The most that Moses can see is, humorously, YHWH’s backside. God placed Moses in a cleft in the rock and covered him until He had passed by. Moses would not see his face.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

— Exodus 33:14-23 NIV

In the parallel story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36; Mark 9:2-8; Matthew 17:1-9), there is first dazzling light. Yet a cloud soon overshadows the whole scene. Richard Rohr explains that “the epiphany is both light and darkness, knowability and unknowability, disclosure and non-disclosure.”

After the astounding experience on the mountain, Jesus deliberately walks with the disciples back down the mountain, onto the plain and desert of everyday life. Richard Rohr says that Jesus wanted to move the disciples “out of this enlightening, but also dangerously ego-inflating experience.”

We know that, always, we must return to the ordinary. We must come down from our mountaintops and walk on the rough road where life happens. We must experience the path’s twists and turns that take us through green pastures as well as through valleys of death’s shadow. That is the life we must live. Our Christian faith does not allow for permanent ascents. Mountaintop experiences for us are times of strength-gathering that make the rough roads bearable.

Jesus tells the disciples who witnessed his glorious transfiguration, “Don’t talk about it!” (Matthew 17:9). Because Jesus knew that talking too soon would only weaken the experience. Silence is important. Silence is necessary to preserve the sacred and the mysterious. Silence helps us remember how we felt on the “mountaintop.” And remembering helps us walk on, facing wherever life’s journey takes us with faith, confidence and perseverance. Thanks be to God. Amen.