Sunday, October 18, 2015

The value of stillness.....

Be Still, and Know that I am God. 
                                               Psalm 46:10

For some reason, during pastor's sermon today, my mind went off on a tangent. Thankfully, his sermons usually hold my attention. But today, I allowed myself to wander. And I thought of something that has deep meaning for me: the value of being still, and allowing God to surround you.

I can think of at least three times in my life where I have experienced the very presence of God. It was something both elusive yet very real. Something concrete but also something fleeting. One of those times was as I was singing with the Pacific Chorale, and in the silence after the final chord of a piece, I was overwhelmed with a Presence that I can only say was God. Another time was when I was standing in a grove of turning aspen trees in northern Arizona. The trees themselves were arranged with an opening, and their branches reaching out as if I was in a chapel. There was only a light breeze and no noise, and I was absolutely alone. In the quiet of that chapel of golden leaves, I dropped to my knees in reverence, knowing I was in His presence. 

Sometimes, I think we as Christians feel the need to "feel" something as a means to validate that God is real to us. I am not fond of contemporary worship. While I agree that it reaches some that would not be comfortable in a more traditional or liturgical environment, I find that its focus is on songs and an emotional response, with a great deal of physical involvement to be something that rings hollow to me. Yes, there are those that would say traditional or liturgical worship is too boring or repetitive, and I would allow them to have that viewpoint. But mine is different. For to me, and maybe many others, you don't exclusively "experience" God in a contemporary service. You don't exclusively experience God in traditional liturgy as well.

Sometimes you experience Him in the silence and stillness. Which is where my mind went to this morning. Particularly, it went to a place that is etched in my soul as another location where God surrounded me.

It was a small room - the sacristy - of the Mission La Purisima Concepcion, one of the famed California missions, and the one that is the most fully restored. When you go to La Purisima, you are surrounded by open fields and low hills. You feel that you have stepped back in time to when the mission was active and alive. Go on a weekday and the place can be empty. And I did go, many years ago, and took my camera into that small room.

It was a small room, in relation to many of the other rooms in the mission. It was just big enough for a bench, and that was it. But as I walked in there, I noticed how the light shown through a single window, and also through the door, which was in direct line with the series of doors that led outside, acting like a spotlight on the solitary bench. The light made it magical. And as I took a couple of images with my big 4x5" camera, I felt something. I felt God was there. My breathing changed. A sense of peace came over me, and a sense of immeasurable Love. I stopped what I was doing and just stood there. Even the bench seemed Holy to me - I didn't want to sit on it. I stood there for moments or minutes - I cannot remember. But to this day, my mind often escapes to that place, for it is yet another place I felt God in. 

The Psalmist knew this as he wrote the passage "Be still, and know that I am God", and knew of the importance of stillness. And today, with the cacophony of noise and intrusion into our lives by work, our families, our commitments and our electronic devices, the need for stillness has never been greater. We need to find that time of stillness, when all we do - is listen.

Sacristy, Bench, Mission La Purisima Concepcion, copyright 2015, John Prothero
4x5" black and white negative, limited prints available 

Soli Deo Gloria

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