Wordless Stillness

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Wordless stillness: a place in Arkansas captured by Steven Nawojczyk

A friend of posts a unique message on her blog on Wednesdays. She calls it “Wordless Wednesday.” In the post, she offers beautiful photo images.

I have often wondered how she came up with the title, “Wordless Wednesdays.” Did she have writer’s block on a particular Wednesday? Did she borrow the title from another place? Did she know that on some days, she would simply have nothing to say, so she just planned it to be on Wednesdays?

It occurs to me that this is a Wednesday and I have nothing much to say. It seems like one of my empty days, when words don’t seem to emerge. My readers probably know that it is a very unusual state of being for me to not have anything to say. It rarely happens.

Sitting in my quiet time without words is a bit disconcerting for me. And yet, maybe without words, I can find a holy stillness, a silence in which God can talk to me. Maybe it is not a bad thing to be without words. Maybe a wordless stillness is exactly where God needs me to be.

A friend of mine has a way with wordless stillness. He loves nature and visits it every single day. And in the places he visits, his keen eye always catches breathtaking views of nature. I am struck by his images every time he posts them. Interestingly, he captures images from one particular place more often than not. He loves that view, capturing Arkansas sunrises, sunsets, and everything in between . . . always from that one spot. He admits it. He tells us straight up that this spot is his favorite view in Arkansas.

But here’s the thing I have discovered about his photographs of that Arkansas scene: what he captures, always, is stillness. Stillness without words.

Maybe wordless stillness is something all of us need to capture. God can find us in that place, that place that feels like Holy Ground. God can comfort us there, encourage us, forgive us, work in us, speak to our souls.

The Psalmist finds silence again and again:

Be still and know that I am God.

— Psalm 46:10 (NRSV)

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

— Psalm 62:5-6 (NRSV)

 

Elijah found silence on Horeb, the mountain of God:

“Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.

— I Kings 19:11-12 (NRSV)

Wordless stillness. Silence in the presence of God. Holy Ground.

Amen.

Find the Stillness

25BC8CF9-6462-4461-A6AE-1746BCFC9B73“I have calmed and quieted my soul.” Words from the Psalmist.

Sometimes we have to get out of the fray for a few minutes. We have to turn off the political rancor, close our eyes to the evil in the world, forget for just a moment that children have been taken from their parents at the southern border, shut out the images of refugee mothers with their children traveling miles to get to safe refuge, and finally, find the stillness that gives us strength.

Sometimes we have to leave the difficult stuff behind as we enter into a sacred place of communion with God. It is God, after all, who calls us to help those in need. So in the silence, God might just tell us how to do that.

How long has it been since you spent time in a quiet and calm place? Since you lingered in a place of holy, sacred beauty? Since you waited in silence hoping to know the healing that comes with stillness?

I must confess that I do not often calm my soul. Instead, I keep myself busy with life things. I get worked up over various injustices and, before I know it, I have spent hours signing petitions, writing my representatives in Congress, or composing opinion articles. But I never stop long enough to hear from God and, in listening, to discover how I should respond to the needs I see.

“I have calmed and quieted my soul,” the Psalmist tells us. And the Psalmist also instructs us to find the stillness: “Be still, and know that I am God.” 

It is such a brief thought, a simple injunction, and yet a part of Scripture that has been quoted again and again to instruct those of us who need to find stllness in our lives.

So what is it that we do that keeps us so busy? What is it that so thoroughly prevents us from stilling our souls? Have we determined that the busyness is worth the effort we give it? God calls us to acts of compassion and justice. God might also be calling us to stillness. 

One of my favorite hymns is Be Still, My Soul.* The author of this hymn, Katharina Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel, was born in Germany in 1697. Very little is known of her life though some hymnologists suggest that she may have become a Lutheran nun. Her hymn text appears at the time of German pietism, a movement led by Philipp Jacob Spener (1635-1705.) Although Spener was not a hymn writer himself, he inspired a revival in German hymnody characterized by faithfulness to Scripture, personal experience, and deep emotional expression. Katharina von Schlegel is thought to be the leading female hymn writer of this period.

To reach us, the hymn must, of course, be understandable in our own language, so it comes to us through a translation by Jane Borthwick (1813-1897), a member of the Free Church of Scotland.

Here are the moving words of the hymn:

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.

Author: Catharine Amalia Dorothea von Schlegel, 1752 – ?
Translated by: Jane Borthwick, 1855
Composer: Jean Sibelius, b. 1865, arr.
Tune: “Finlandia”

 

In the stillness, we find God’s comfort, presence, faithfulness, grace. And with that, we are able to go into a world of need with resolve, commitment, compassion and mission. The world waits for us. The people frightened and oppressed wait for us. The stillness prepares us for the task.

May God make it so. Amen.

*During your quiet time, you may wish to listen to the hymn, Be Still My Soul. You may do so at this link:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cHNT6G9ZKik