No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging.
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing.Robert Lowry
It began late last fall when Frankie (my Wheaten puppy) and I were out for our daily walk at the National park here in our city. We had taken one of the interior trails that morning, avoiding the more crowded main loop through the park. As we wandered along the trail, we happened upon another dog and his owner. They had stepped off the trail and were standing perfectly still and quiet in a bed of dry leaves. The dog had spotted a squirrel. Now, had Frankie noticed the squirrel she would have jerked my arm off bolting across the carpet of leaves to get to it. But, this was an English Pointer, and Pointers stand still in a pointing stance when they spot something like a squirrel. Frankie and I stopped too. This is no small miracle that Frankie stood as still as that Pointer. Seriously. I couldn’t believe how long she stood there just watching that other dog. I did the same thing – amazed at how still that dog stood on three legs, with his fourth bent and pointed toward the squirrel. It was captivating. After some time the dog began to move, and I whispered to his owner, “that is the definition of still.” He simply smiled at me. Frankie and I moved on, finishing our walk. But I couldn’t let go of this encounter with “stillness.”
Let us accept the invitation ever-open, from the Stillness,
taste its exquisite sweetness, and heed its silent instruction.Paul Brunton
After that morning in the park, the messages of stillness started to bombard me. Like the quote from Paul Brunton that appeared in my inbox a few days later. Shortly after that, I jumped in my VW bug to run a quick errand and suddenly felt something crawling on me. I looked down and spotted a praying mantis on my leg. Just a tad shocking! I pulled onto a side street, got out, and gently placed her safely on the ground. Interestingly, the praying mantis is another animal that evokes stillness. In December, there was a week where I encountered stillness three days in a row. First, I drew an art card from Melanie Weidner’s wonderful Listen for Joy art card collection. The card was an abstract watercolor image of rich blues with a tiny message printed on the side margin – “the knowing blooms when I am still.” The next day one of my students brought me a beautiful necklace with several dangles, a key, and a small charm with the words “be still and know.” It appeared again the very next day in a prayer offered by my friend, Deborah, at the beginning of our centering prayer group. Each petition of the prayer began with the repetitive phrase, “may we be still enough to . . .” I felt like I was gathering up clues in a scavenger hunt, searching for some delightful surprise. They kept piling up. By now, I was fully awake to noticing them. But, I struggled to discern what they were all about. It didn’t resonate with me that the invitation in all these messages was simply to be physically still. I sensed there was something deeper to all this.
I believe that we keep getting invitations to lessons we need to learn until we’re finally ready to receive them; to be open to the transformation they hold. As I was journaling one day about all this, I wondered if part of the gift of stillness that God was inviting me to was a spirit of calm. True stillness is really more than just sitting down and not moving. In the spiritual life it’s also an interior invitation. A resting place of calm. Calmness that pervades all the doing in life. Not letting my internal voice concoct stories or get stuck in anxiety mode. It’s the grounding assurance of Julian of Norwich’s words that all shall be well. And, it’s deeply alluring to me. The trouble is getting myself there.
I decided that maybe calm was a word to carry with me throughout 2019, letting it be front and center in my mind and heart. Allowing it to simmer and release its wisdom along my path, like a treasured companion. One of the 40 cards in Melanie’s “deep breath” collection is a calm card. In my daily practice of drawing an art card from the collection, I’ve been amazed at how often I draw the stillness and calm cards. One week, I drew the calm card several days in a row! Message received! On two occasions this year, I’ve spotted a praying mantis in my backyard. Lots of visual reminders and nudges to continue pondering this word. And then there are the things that I read or listen to that reveal a little more to me about living from a place of calm. In one of the recent daily meditations from the Henri Nouwen Society, the phrase “holy indifference” popped out at me. He defined it like this – “it is possible for you to develop a simple life of prayer that can give you that ‘holy indifference’ – that place where you feel so well held that the ups and downs of your life aren’t able to distress or excite you.” Ahh! That’s it right there! It’s what I believe is at the core of a calm spirit, a still space. And maybe that’s what has been mine to unwrap in all these messages. My mind often wants to race ahead, linger in the past, or pull me into imagined scenarios. All of that robs me of the holy moment right in front of me, from living a life saturated in P/presence.
We’ve turned the calendar to October and slowly, as 2019 is unfolding, I think the wisdom of calm is beginning to ripen within me. I’m trying to weave this wisdom into my daily life, though some days are harder than others. Living life in a way that reflects the belief that I’m truly held by the Ground of all Being is no small task. But, I continue to practice at placing myself in that still, calm space, hopeful that one day it will become a way of life for me.