The Wild and Peaceful Landscapes of Stillness

Gwen starring out at the vast oceanscape from a barrier island in North CarolinaDuring Sabbatical I had some amazing adventures in experiencing the difference between the stillness I thought I knew about and had studying about and the stillness that patiently lead me to wild and peaceful landscapes within me that I had never seen or even knew existed.There is nothing like being surrounded in stillness by an endless deep ocean and a crisp blue sky that seems to stretch to eternity. I sat still; I stood still, even holding my breath so as not to miss the glory of such a sight. Creation of the Creator unfolding right in from of me and I became a silent witness. What a privilege. I was honored and to this day I hold the honor in my heart.To encounter the Creator at his work while wrapped in stillness is to not remain the same. Stillness gave me the deep awareness that while being a silent witness, being actually present with God in a glorious display of nature right before my eyes, he too was present with me in the landscape of the dark, rugged crevices of piercing grief and suffering . In stillness I experienced my presence with God in beauty and his presence with me in brokenness. We were together and it was good. Nothing fixed or figured out. Nothing healed and made brand new.Stillness gave me an experience with Companionship and Compassion and Comfort. I wasn’t alone with my isolating fears and blinding tears. Stillness ushered me into that mysterious peace that had nothing to do with understanding anything. Stillness granted me the reality of Divine Presence. Stillness let me know God in the midst of what seems to be a godless situation. Stillness made an inviting space for me to know and listen to God say, “Be still and know me”. And I did.Stillness gave me space to listen to the unexpressed voice crying out from my desolate wilderness. This is what I heard:A Prayer for Tommy*Holy, precious, purest angel face,God, please kiss him with your tender grace.Double chinButton nosePerfect little fingersSweetest tiny toes.Holy is this momentLove and sorrow flowsHearts that ache to hold himAre held by One who knows.Tommy Jacob Smith, my fourth grandchild: born March 5,2015—died, March 5, 2015

Read the Directions

The tea that gave me my "Aha" moment! A few days into my Sabbatical I got the worst cold I have ever had. The physical aches, pains and down right misery that a bad cold makes you feel, were the obvious outlets for the long accumulated and residual stress stored in my hidden, way down deep soul place. I was living proof that we are all intricately woven together by our Creator…everything is connected. As awful as I felt, there was this companioning gratitude that sabbatical was giving me time and space, that is definitely not the norm, to be as sick as I was and take as long as I needed to heal. I had never experienced a holy misery like this before and wasn’t so sure how to navigate it.Nothing gave me the soothing care that you need when your head feels the size of a watermelon, like keeping a steaming hot mug of tea in my hands, holding it up close to my face and sipping now and then. I unwrapped what seemed to be the millionth teabag and couldn’t help but laugh at what I saw. The name of the tea was Breathe Deep and on the little white tag attached to the teabag were the words: “Socialize with compassion, kindness and grace.”I know it’s sounds superficial and silly but I didn’t dismissively roll my eyes for some reason. Instead I felt a tug, a curiosity to read it again. What if I actually did what it said? No one else was around so I couldn’t pass it off in jest with someone else. I took the challenge. First of all, “Breathe Deep” was the name of the tea so I stood there and took several long deep breaths. Breathing is obviously essential to life yet is so dismissed ,as if there is no worth paying it any attention. Our very breath can actually be a simple reminder of the gift of live we so take for granted. It can be the very thing within us that can remind us of the Spirit of God with in us. It was a powerful and comforting reminder for me that day. God is as close as my breath. He isn’t way out there waiting to be beckoned. Taking deep breaths can be a true spiritual exercise to help honor the God designed connection between our body and soul. It can be so revealing of the stress we kept pent up inside and it is the provision of something so simple to relieve the stress that is so damaging to our body and soul. It’s body care to breathe. It’s soul care to breathe.   Awareness of God isn’t as complicated as we make it sometimes. Deep breaths gave me a sacred awareness of God right there in the kitchen with me. His name, after all is Immanuel, God with us.The little tag read “socialize with compassion”. Compassion means ‘to suffer with’. God is Compassion. He knows suffering and is with us in our suffering. I want to socialize, to be in that kind of company. I want to be a person who suffers with others, to show up and tell them that I am sorry they are suffering whether I can help relieve their suffering or not. The tag also read “Socialize with kindness and grace”. God is always expressing his kindness to me. His amazing grace is, to me, more than just the words to a favorite hymn. He is kind to give me a life filled with so much that I am undeserving of. I was stirred by my desire to socialize, interact with and be acquainted with this unconditional grace and kindness. I want it to be more than my theology; I want to be kindness and grace with skin on.Surprised by an encounter with God through a teabag, as silly as that may be, is an encounter that continues to inspire me to breath in, to keep company with, to socialize with God’s compassion, kindness and grace. It always helps to read the directions and this is especially true when making tea and caring for one's soul. 

The Gift of Bewilderment

A shell like this opened my heart in a way that hearing seven points about God could never do. “Only at the periphery of our lives, where we, and our understanding of God, are undone, can we understand bewilderment as an occasion for another way of knowing.”   Belden Lane There is nothing like being the only one walking on a desolate beach in the cool dawn of morning and stumbling upon a beautiful, broken shell that speaks to you. Now of course you know that I don’t mean the shell said something, yet it was as if, it did. I couldn’t help but plunge into the wonder of its delicate markings that formed a spiraling circle, as if to be the very mapping of the journey my heart was on. I couldn’t help but go subterranean, that place deep inside where there is no vocabulary to articulate the feeling or what I knew to be true. I was in awe, speechless. So much was being said and I was listening intently. Pondering the beautiful and the brutal of what I was ushered into left me silent and still. I dared not move for fear of losing the very encounter that my heart always longs for.So how do I describe to you what it was like for me to encounter God through a shell? It was strangely sacred, like God and I have this private exchange about the realities that are too deep for human words, so paradoxical, the silent beautiful and brutal truths mingling together way down deep, with just God and me. At times like this a gnawing frustration burrows deep too. What do I do with these wordless ponderings? The painful emotions of grief and the soothing comfort of the salt air undo me. I’m left bewildered by my inexpressible soul.While being steeped in stillness for a while, God showed me something about myself and about himself. Frustration was coming from trying so hard not to be bewildered by the deep stirrings in my heart. I was actually trying to make common sense out of something holy. God assured me of the need for quite the opposite. My bewilderment is blessed and not to be boxed up and clearly identified. Bewilderment is, as Belden Lane expresses, “an occasion for another way of knowing God. “ To be undone by the ripping grief of death is an occasion for another way of knowing God. Consoled by the beauty of strolling on a lonely beach was an occasion for another way of knowing God. Listening to the loud silence of what a shell had to say was an occasion for another way of knowing God. I didn’t have to articulate and make it understandable. It was all it had to be.To articulate what is deeply spiritual isn’t always the right thing. I wonder if a lot of Christians talk incessantly, preach too long, and teach too much because to remain in mystery is too threatening to their stated faith. Perhaps, we thirst for more information about God than experiencing the mystery of God. To embrace the mystery of the unseen and indescribable is to experience a quiet peace that surpasses the need to explain or understand. And it is a sweet peace that is palpable.Sabbatical often ushered me into this bewildering place and I found myself glad and knowing that I can rest in bewilderment.